State officials have fired the contractor hired to build a state psychiatric hospital that is two years late and years away from completion.
The company that insured the $129 million project through a bond will now step in and manage completion of Broughton Hospital in Morganton.
The move comes five years after the state hired Archer Western Contractors of Charlotte to build a 400,000-square-foot hospital that would add another 100 beds to the psychiatric hospital serving patients in the western part of the state. The new hospital was initially expected to open in the fall of 2014.
Though the project has been plagued with construction problems since 2013, state officials did not rein in the contractor until recently. Mandy Cohen, Gov. Roy Cooper’s secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, began investigating the stalled project when she came on board in January. The News & Observer reported on the problems last month.
After months of efforts to get the project back on track, the agency has given up on Archer Western. DHHS leaders predicted it would have taken the company two more years to finish. Letters sent between company leaders and DHHS officials have been filled with sharp accusations about the project’s mishaps.
In a letter sent April 20, state officials formally fired Archer Western, offering one more round of criticism.
“AWC has essentially put forward the same excuses that have been rejected by DHHS and the Project Architect on prior occasions, sought to demand acts by DHHS and other State Project participants to which it has no right under the Contract, and to resurrect stale (and non-meritorious) contract claims,” wrote Luke O. Hoff, director of the Division of Property and Construction for DHHS.
Archer Western officials couldn’t be reached for comment. In February, company officials defended their work in a 999-page letter with exhibits, arguing it was in the best position to finish the hospital. Hoff dismissed the contractor’s latest revised completion plan, describing it in the April 20 letter as “illusory and unachievable.”
As the project stalled, patients in need of critical mental health care lingered in emergency rooms or jails. In 2016, the wait to be admitted to the old Broughton Hospital averaged four and a half days, according to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Health. The new hospital would add 100 beds to the current 280.
State officials require contractors hired to build public projects to purchase a surety bond that can be invoked when the contractor defaults. Archer Western provided a $129 million bond through Travelers Insurance when it won the contract by low bid in 2012.
DHHS officials have now demanded Travelers take over the project and complete Archer Western’s contracted work. Agency officials met with insurance representatives Wednesday to start negotiating how that would happen.
DHHS officials are insisting that Archer Western have no role in that new plan.
Locke: 919-829-8927 or @MandyLockeNews