The future of Angel Medical Center in Franklin NC is still uncertain 1 year after the labor and delivery unit closed its doors.
Franklin Mayor Bob Scott tries not to sound pessimistic.
“I always had dreams that Angel would be a regional medical center. I don’t see that happening now,” says Mayor Scott.
The main reason for his concern is that Angel is currently in talks for a deal with for-profit Hospital Corporation of America or HCA. The labor and delivery unit closure came as a way to keep the hospital in the black. It was not enough to keep Angel from looking for other alternatives for revenue.
Local healthcare providers say that there has been little decline in the quality of care for women and babies in the area - minus the fact that mothers are unable to give birth in Franklin, unless it is at the ER.
“I’ve heard stories left and right about parents who almost didn’t make it and it’s summer time. I don’t know what would happen if the mountain was covered in snow,” says Dr. Kevin Foley, a pediatrician in Franklin.
Patients travel to either Harris Regional Hospital - about 21 miles away over Cowee Mountain - or Mission Health in Asheville - about 69 miles away over both Cowee Mountain and Balsam Mountain. The Asheville hospital is the only one with a neonatal intensive care unit in the region. That means pregnant women who want to give birth at that facility must plan out that hectic scenario more than before.
“If you have any doubts or questions or if you don’t think that you are going to make it then go to the ER,” says Jennifer Garrett, director of nursing and clinical services administrator at Macon County Health Department.
Harris Regional Hospital has seen a 70 percent increase in births since the closure of Angel’s unit. In May, it opened a new state of the art labor and delivery unit. That expansion began after the hospital was bought by Duke LifePoint 4 years ago. Harris has also been beefing up staff in Sylva and at its Franklin office.
Mayor Bob Scott brought Harris CEO and President Steve Heatherly to a town forum in Franklin, as residents there nervously wait for the outcome of Mission Health’s proposed sale to HCA. Heatherly told them Duke LifePoint is watching this play out as well.
“However, it turns out. I will be so bold as to say that we will be a part of the provision of healthcare in Macon County,” says Heatherly.
Mission’s deal with HCA is not finalized but Mission has committed to building a new hospital in Franklin for $43 million if the deal goes through. It hopes the hospital will be built by winter of 2022. Mission representatives say it is on track to have an agreement with HCA by August.