Novant Health wants to sell the Franklin Medical Center, Franklin County’s only major medical facility, the company announced.
“We believe that offering Franklin Medical Center for sale provides the best opportunity to meet the long-term health care needs of Franklin County,” Patrick Easterling, senior vice president of consumer operations for Novant, said in a statement.
Novant Health, which has owned the hospital since 2009, will put out a call for offers in the coming weeks, said spokeswoman Caryn Klebba.
Klebba said Novant plans to sell to another health care company that will continue to provide medical services in Franklin County, which is to the north and more rural than Wake County.
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Medical services won’t be interrupted as Novant pursues a sale, the company said in a news release.
The sale of the hospital would mark the end of an often tumultuous relationship between Franklin County leaders and Novant, which is based in Winston-Salem.
Boyd Sturges, an attorney and former member of the Louisburg Town Council, said he thinks Novant has long focused on the southern part of the county as a way to move into the Wake County market.
That strategy has left the northern part of Franklin County under served, Sturges said.
“It’s obvious that they want to be in the Triangle,” he said. “Wake County is a tremendously lucrative place to be in health care. ... You don’t have all the issues of a rural hospital.”
Franklin County Commissioner Sidney Dunston said he thinks Novant could have done more to attract patients.
“The issue is whether Novant has presented their brand to be a (fitting) brand for Franklin,” he said.
Last year, the company shut down an operating room at the Franklin Medical Center to open one at an outpatient facility in Youngsville, miles from the Wake County line.
Critics saw the decision as a way to attract potential patients from Wake County while moving medical services farther away from residents in northern Franklin County.
Novant Health hoped to open a hospital in Holly Springs, in southern Wake. But the state gave the go-ahead to Rex Healthcare instead. Novant unsuccessfully appealed the decision in 2012.
Novant Health has spent millions of dollars to upgrade technology and recruit physicians and patients to Franklin Medical Center, according to the company.
But the number of patients admitted to the 83-bed hospital has decreased, the company said.
In October 2014, the hospital was operating with an average of 65 unfilled beds, Klebba said. So the company began to staff the hospital to care for 15 admitted patients, although the remaining beds are still licensed to be filled.
Novant laid off 59 workers the same month.
Novant also pared down services at Franklin Medical Center to focus on emergency and outpatient care, as well as its geriatric behavioral health unit, which treats patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.