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Advocates call for former Angel Medical Center to be used for mental health services

A woman in a tie-dye long sleeved shirt with long blonde hair speaks to the Franklin Town Council.
Lilly Knoep
Kelsie Elliott speaks to the Franklin Town Council about her struggles with substance abuse and how better resources in Macon County could save lives.

The town of Franklin’s conversations about what to do with the former Angel Medical Center facility continued on Tuesday evening as representatives from a local substance abuse support organization appealed to council members to use the facility for mental health resources or transitional housing.

There was no item pertaining to the old hospital on the town agenda, but that didn’t stop community members from speaking out during the public comment session about the needs for mental health and substance abuse services in Macon County.

Nine people spoke about the hospital building including Kelsie Elliott who talked about her own experiences with substance abuse. Elliot says that one of her biggest barriers to getting away from addiction was finding a place for treatment. She shared the story of the day that she wanted to turn her life around.

“I was like this is it. If a judge lets me out today, then I’m going to treatment right then. Sure enough, the judge let me out that day. And it was six months before I could find a place to take me,” Elliot said during public comment.

Elliot said she is now a peer support specialist with No Wrong Door, a support and recovery program in Macon County. The program also works in partnership with the Macon County Sheriff’s department and detention center.

She says having any kind of facility in Franklin for folks in transition could be an important resource.

“I think that could definitely save lives,” Elliot said.

The former Angel Medical Facility has been vacant since the new Mission hospital building opened in September, leaving about 16 acres in the middle of town unused.

In February, a feasibility study concluded that it would be too expensive to turn the facility into affordable senior housing. So what do with the facility is still up in the air.

Former Town Council member Dinah Mashburn is president of the No Wrong Door board. She spoke about the former psychiatric ward which used to exist at Angel Medical Center in the 80s and 90s and served the seven westernmost counties.

“I also know just what I’ve seen with No Wrong Door” that services are way more needed now then they are in the 80s and 90s,” Mashburn said.

More than 4,200 people in North Carolina are suspected to have died from an overdose in 2022 – more than any prior year on record.

While they advocated for an addiction treatment facility, public commenters acknowledged that the council’s hands were tied. Franklin Mayor Jack Horton said that despite the private ownership of the building, he hopes town officials will have input on its future.

“It doesn’t belong to us. But our notion is - and I’ve told the hospital folks this - that whatever you decide we want to make sure that we have some say-so in what happens to that hospital,” Horton said.

Throughout the meeting, town council members and those who spoke during public comment encouraged listeners to reach out to their local and state politicians about mental health needs in Western North Carolina.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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