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It's Official: Angel Axes L&D Services Despite Public Outcry

Davin Eldridge
Franklin mother Kaitlin Joan McMahan, up front and to the left, along with her husband, Franklin alderman Brandon McMahan, were among the many to stand in support of Angel's L/D unit on Monday.

Angel Medical Center’s board of directors  made it official – later this year, the far-western North Carolina hospital will no longer deliver babies.

As of July 14, Angel Medical Center in Franklin will no longer provide labor and delivery services. The decision came after a three hour-long meeting by Angel’s board of directors. The vote to discontinue the services came at the behest of Mission Health in Asheville, which runs Angel.

But even as the board met inside, more than a hundred residents from Macon County gathered outside to protest the decision. Dr. San Ho Choi was among them.

Credit Davin Eldridge
More than a hundred Macon County residents turned out on Monday as members of Angel Medical Center's Board of Directors made their ways in for a final vote on whether to nix the hospital's labor and delivery services.

“They put these future baby’s mothers at risk. They don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Dr. Choi retired from Angel last fall, after working there for some forty-five years.

“American medicine is expensive. I know that. You increase risk, closing here. You go to Sylva, that’s another half an hour--those babies mother’s don’t have that half an hour. That’s why we’re fighting for this.”

Franklin officials were also present for the demonstration, like Alderman Brandon McMahan, who explained the town did all that it could to oppose the decision.

“There was a consensus that we were displeased with this decision. I’m afraid there’s not a whole lot that the town in an official capacity can do. We've written them letters as a board. But we’ll do what we can, that’s why we’re here.”

McMahan’s wife, along with their newborn son, were also there.

“I am an Angel Baby, and the women and children of this area matter.”

Credit Davin Eldridge

But just up the hill, Angel’s board of directors were busy deliberating in the cafeteria. The final choice, according to Angel board chairman Jane Kimsey, was a difficult one.

“As members of the community, the Board Members at Angel Medical Center did not want to ever face the very difficult decision to stop providing labor and delivery services at our hospital.  Many of us used those services in our family and we realize the value they provide to our community.  Like you, our neighbors, family, and friends work in that department and we are proud that year after year, the women’s department is recognized for the quality they provide.”

Kimsey added that the board was tasked with ensuring Angel breaks even financially, so that it can continue to function as a hospital.

“The hospital lost large amounts of money prior to our affiliation with Mission, and we will lose money again this year without a major change and reduction in our costs.  Even more important, we are forecasted to lose money every year moving forward absent changes in our operations.”

According to Mission president and CNO Karen Gorby, labor and delivery was costing the hospital some $1.4 million a year, and those losses were expected to climb. Nevertheless, she reaffirmed Mission’s plan to commit some $46 million to build a new hospital in Franklin. But that project is still in its early stages.

“It takes time. And so, as we start through that planning phase, from planning to actually being in a new hospital, is at least 2 to 3 years.”

With that new facility returns the possibility of labor and delivery services as well, she added.

“We can never say never. As we look at our population growth and the demands of the region, we’ll consider that in the future if that’s where population takes us.”

Gorby added that Mission Health has been working on a transition plan with Harris Regional in Jackson County, which is owned and operated by Duke LifePoint, to help with the demand of child birth in far-western North Carolina.

“In this healthcare environment, we can’t continue compete, we have to collaborate.”

Harris Regional is roughly 21 miles from Franklin. Mission Health in Asheville, which is over an hour away, is the only other hospital to deliver newborns in the region. 

Credit Davin Eldridge
At one point that afternoon, an anonymous group of healthcare workers abruptly released dozens of balloons into the air to show support for the labor and delivery services.

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