By David Rogers. June 25, 2014. BLOWING ROCK, NC – Road graders, bulldozers and backhoes will have moved most of the dirt when Appalachian Regional Healthcare System's (ARHS) new post-acute care facility is complete, but the initial 14 golden shovels dipping crisply into the soft earth at the Chestnut Ridge site were symbolic in their ability to move mountains.
In front of an estimated 150 Blowing Rock and High Country business, civic, government and community notables, ARHS chief executive officer Richard Sparks, North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata, Dr. Bunky Davant, Mrs. Harriet Davant, Paul Broyhill, Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence, and ARHS board chair Keith Tester were among the first to let the shovels fly in a ceremonial groundbreaking for Chestnut Ridge. The "photo op" was limited only by the number of available shovels, as several dozen more who have been instrumental in "moving mountains" to get the project launched took their respective turns in "flinging dirt."
It's a great day for Blowing Rock.
Chestnut Ridge may not be complete, but with $6.4 million in the fundraising coffers what is arguably Blowing Rock's biggest development project is well on its way. When completed, the post-acute care facility aims to save 110 healthcare jobs and add some 59 more in Blowing Rock — and provide an important conduit for ARHS's growing partnership with Appalachian State University's College of Health Sciences to not only improve the quality of life in the High Country, but to provide rising healthcare professionals an even better education.
The development timeline leading up to Tuesday's groundbreaking celebration has been seven years in the making:
- 2007 — ARHS acquires the financially struggling Blowing Rock Hospital
- 2009 — ARHS' executive team and board determined that the best use for Blowing Rock Hospital in the future wuold be to function as a post-acute care facility focused on providing skilled nursing care, rehabilitation, memory care, and palliative care.
- 2011 — After careful analysis, the ARHS team calculated that even a renovated Blowing Rock Hospital could still not be equipped or designed to provide the essential services demanded by their vision for a "continuum of care" in the High Country.
- 2011 — ARHS applies for a Certificate of Need (CON) from the State of North Carolina to construct a new post-acute care facility to replace Blowing Rock Hospital
- 2011 — ARHS purchases two tracts of land totaling 68 acres along U.S. 321 in Blowing Rock
- 2012 — The Certificate of Need is gramted by North Carolina
- 2012 — The Town of Blowing Rock annexes the 68 acres, allowing for water and sewer services to the site
- 2012 — The "silent phase" of ARHS capital campaign begins, aiming to raise $10 million
- 2012 — ARHS partners with the Town of Blowing Rock in an attempt to find grants for water and sewer
- 2012 — The North Carolina Department of Transportation commits $2.5 million to build a bridge and road on the site
- 2013 — ARHS closes the critical access hospital in Blowing Rock 2013 — The planned post-acute care facility is officially named Chestnut Ridge at Blowing Rock
- 2013 — ARHS and the Town of Blowing Rock successfully raise $1.3 million in grant funding for water and sewer
- 2014 — ARHS launches the "public phase" of the capital campaign to raise $10 million
- 2014 — U.S. Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina announces a $427 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Adminstration
- 2014 — At Chestnut Ridge grouindbreaking, ARHS executives announce that $6.4 million of the $10 million has been raised
The history and legacy of healthcare in Blowing Rock continues.
On Tuesday, Mr. Sparks lived up to his promise with ARHS' tangible and highly visible commitment to Chestnut Ridge. The post-acute care facility will offer a special level of healthcare not offered at acute-care hospitals such as Watauga Medical Center. This special care is tailored to a patient's individual needs, goals and circumstances. In each case, a team of health care professionals will work with patients and their families to ensure those needs are met and the goals achieved.
"The history and heritage of Blowing Rock Hospital continues into the future," noted Sparks in addressing the enthusiastic crowd of High Country supporters. "It continues in a new facility and in a new setting, in what we know as today's evolving healthcare delivery system. This facility will play a critical role in the decades to come, helping individuals with health challenges. It also will serve as a catalyst for the development of even more (health-related) services and programs that will help residents in and around the High Country enjoy a higher quality of life… "
This is not a local facility, but a regional facility," Sparks observed, placing Chestnut Ridge firmly in the middle of the ARHS vision for a continuum of care, offering innovative and professional healthcare services from birth to death, and addressing all needs in between. "This is a day of beginnings and it is a great day for Blowing Rock, the High Country region, and North Carolina."
…leverage transportation infrastructure to create jobs.
Perhaps he was thinking of the jobs saved and created when he added North Carolina, because it provided the perfect segue to introducing Mr. Tata, North Carolina's Secretary of Transportation. While Mr. Tata did not hold the position when the initial grant was approved by his predecessor, the former U.S. Army brigadier general who oversaw the military's transportation infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other international "hotspots," was quick to support the Chestnut Ridge project. "When Governor McCrory hired me for this job," Tata explained, "his primary instruction was that we should find ways to leverage transportation infrastructure to create jobs in North Carolina."
Ironically, Mr. Tata and his entourage almost didn't make it to Chestnut Ridge on time — and it earned him an appreciative laugh from the crowd. After landing at the airport in Morganton, the head of the NCDOT and his team drove to Blowing Rock, of course the final leg giving him a first hand look at the U.S. 321 widening project. "We had to fly through and around thunderstorms and our pilot had to circle Morganton a couple of times," he explained, "then we got stopped by a flagman for about 20 minutes as we approached Blowing Rock!"
Tata also drew appreciative chuckles when he reported that he mentioned to Governor Pat McCrory at the early morning staff meeting that he would be in Blowing Rock that afternoon. The Governor, who was in Blowing Rock for the OASIS Shriners and other events as recently as May 31st and is currently facing heated budget negotiations, promptly replied, "Man, I'd much rather be what you are doing with those good people in Blowing Rock instead of fighting the budget battles that we are fighting.
"The Governor sends his regards," Tata added. "I am here on his behalf. Believe me when I tell you that he spoke the truth when he said, 'I'd rather be doing what you are doing.'
"The Governor's 25-year vision (for transportation)," the NCDOT Secretary continued, "which is about to be released, talks about connecting rural areas with healthcare, economic centers, with recreation centers, and the like. Chestnut Ridge is a project that does all of that. Watauga Medical Center is just down the road. There are recreation centers all around us. It is heartwarming to see this and to know that we worked hard with the Appalachian Regional Commission to get the (grant) and we are going to continue to try to get more for this facility, to connect U.S. 321 with this facility."
Sweeping his hand across the panorama to the north and east, Tata concluded, "You all are seeing these wonderful sights and we know that the patients who eventually come here will also be enjoying this view….We're building a bridge and a road up here, but it is important to know that the Governor doesn't want us to just build a bridge, but to build a bridge that reflects something locally, aesthetically. For just a little bit more cost, we can have something that is more aesthetically pleasing. So that is part of the plan here as well.
"To summarize," Mr. Tata concluded, "this project is indicative of what NCDOT is doing all across the state. We are about creating and maintaining jobs, and that is what this facility does. We're connecting rural centers. We're connecting economic centers. We're connecting healthcare centers. And we are connecting education centers."
Rob Hudspeth, ARHS' Senior Vice President of System Advancement, served as emcee for Tuesday's ceremonies and followed Mr. Tata's remarks by saying, "Before I introduce our next speaker, I want to introduce all of our partners that have helped with the planning, engineering, the architecture and the pre-construction phase of this massive project. There are a lot of moving parts, as you would imagine for a project that includes a road, a bridge, and new healthcare facilities. All of that is happening simultaneously, so there are a lot of people to thank today. We don't have the time to do that individually, but I would like to list the organizations that have helped in this pre-construction phase."
Hudspeth went on to list:
- Town of Blowing Rock
- NC Department of Transportation
- Economic Development Administration
- NC Department of Commerce
- Rural Center for Economic Development
- Appalachian Regional Commission
- Appalachian State University
- Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce
- Criterion Healthcare
- High Country Council of Governments
- Martin-McGill, Inc.
- Hickory Construction
- McGill Associates
- RPA Design, PC
- The Louis Berger Group
"I could go on and on," Hudspeth stated. "Thank-you all for your support of this project."
This facility is not local. It is regional.
Hudspeth next turned the speaker's podium over to Mayor J.B. Lawrence, who served on Town Council for eight years as a Commissioner before being elected Mayor for the first time, in 1997.
Mr. Lawrence opened his remarks by saying, "Before we start to celebrate the future of healthcare in Blowing Rock, I would like to recognize some history: the Davant family." Nodding to the Davant family members seated in the front row, he said, "We can never thank them enough for their service to our community.
"Nobody had a bedside manner like 'Doc Charlie' (Davant)," the Mayor smiled. "Bunky (Davant) is good, too, but you could go into see Doc Charlie carrying your head in your hands, but by the time you left he had you convinced that there was nothing wrong with you!'
Continuing, Lawrence added, "This is a great day for Blowing Rock, as Richard (Sparks) said. I want to thank ARHS for having the confidence in Blowing Rock, to choose Blowing Rock for this facility. A community without a major healthcare facility IS a dying community. This project makes a statement that Blowing Rock is anything but a dying community. We have a lot to look forward to, and what a beautiful setting this is. I can't thank enough all of those who have been a part of this."
Hudspeth next introduced Mr. Jerry Hutchens, who preceded Hudspeth as system development executive from 2009 to 2011. He retired from Appalachian State in 2007, where he served as Vice Chancellor for University Advancement and President of the Appalachian State University Foundation. "Jerry is an active Blowing Rock Rotarian," Hudspeth noted, "and a member of Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church in Blowing Rock. He serves on the ARHS board and on our retirement community task force…
"Earlier this month," Hudspeth reported, "we launched our public phase of this capital campaign, and Jerry Hutchens is our chairman."
"A lot has happened to healthcare in the High Country," Hutchens began listing: "Watauga Medical Center, the Seby Jones Cancer Center, the Paul Broyhill Wellness Center, our partner in Cannon Memorial Hospital, in Linville. The residents of Avery County did not have a hospital, and it was Watauga Medical Center and Appalachian Regional Healthcare that led raising the money to build them a new hospital, Cannon Memorial. There are the new specialty programs, and I wish I could mention them all, but I will tell you that there are some exceptional programs in the system. We are very, very fortunate. We have some of the best specialty programs of any healthcare system, anywhere.
They would not have happened without community support.
"We have a viable partnership with Appalachian State and the College of Health Sciences," Hutchens shared. "Seven years ago ARHS decided it was time to partner with Blowing Rock. Now we stand here today embarking on an exciting new project. It will preserve the best of our long tradition of providing healthcare in Blowing Rock, while adding a critical element to the (continuum of care) plan for permanent and seasonal residents of the High Country community.
"When I think of these high quality services and programs that I just listed," Mr. Hutchens added, "there is a central theme that runs through them all. They would not have happened without the community's support. The healthcare system cannot carry this burden alone. In each one of these projects, citizens of the High Country have come forward and made significant contributions to make them possible.
"That's what is happening here at Chestnut Ridge," he concluded. "This is an expensive project. It would not be possible without contributions and we have had some significant and major donations so far."
Hutchens went on to list several organizations — and some of which are not based in Blowing Rock or even the High Country. He pointed to the Golden Leaf Foundation, the Watauga Committee of 100, the Blowing Rock Community Foundation, Blue Ridge Electric, Wells Fargo, the Blowing Rock Fashion Show which is now in its 37th year, the Broyhill Family Foundation, Hound Ears Club, the Cannon Foundation, and the largest amount of money donated by far from a couple and their company in Abingdon, Virginia. This is truly a regional project. So far, we have raised $6.3 million of our $10 million goal."
Hutchens also reflected on the history of healthcare in Blowing Rock, observing, "We got to where we are today because Dr. Charlie Davant left his medical practice in Lenoir and established a practice in Blowing Rock in 1948. He was the driving force behind the first medical facility. His son, Dr. Bunky Davant, has carried forward the legacy of his father. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Davant family and what they have done for our community."
Noting her role as "the glue that held that family together" and "the matriarch of healthcare in Blowing Rock," Hutchens then introduced Mrs. Harriet Davant, wife of the late 'Doc Charlie.'
"I was asked to speak today about my husband, Dr. Charles Davant, Jr., and his legacy," explained Mrs. Davant. "Now if something is handed down from one period of time to another, that something from the past is true and significant to future generations, it also means that someone is remembering."
It also means that someone is remembering.
After leaving the U.S. Navy, where he served as a physician, Charles Davant and his wife moved to Blowing Rock from Lenoir, "…and spent the next 50 years attending to the health needs of people in Blowing Rock., not only establishing his private practice, but creating Blowing Rock Hospital and an extended care facility."
Mrs. Davant credited Jerry Burns, the late editor of The Blowing Rocket, with saying about Dr. Davant after his death, "Few people have touched as many lives as Charlie. He was involved in all aspects of the community.'" Davant continued, "He was the guiding force in the improvements of the county school system, where he served as chairman of the school board for 12 years. The school district was consolidated and integrated during his leadership. His friend Grady Moretz (Appalachian Ski Mountain) said, 'Charlie Davant's impact on this region is not only in healthcare, but also because of his devotion to education and municipal and county government. Dr. Charlie passed away on April 6, 2003, in the medical facility he had devoted his life to…What he brought to this community and what he left behind is understood. Had he not come to Blowing Rock, to bring good medicine to our mountains, we would not be breaking ground for Chestnut Ridge today."
And break ground they did. With Mrs. Davant, Mr. Broyhill, Mr. Tata and Mr. Sparks leading the way, the well-wishers and supporters of the project came in waves for their respective chances to turn some dirt — each wearing a white hard hat, with a golden shovel fittingly symbolic of the occasion.