By David Rogers. October 8, 2016. BLOWING ROCK, NC – As watershed moments in Blowing Rock history go it doesn’t get much bigger than September-October of 2016.
All photographic images by Kenneth Kirksey and provided to Blowing Rock News courtesy of Appalachian Regional Healthcare
To be sure, Blowing Rock has seen a few chapter-turning historical events over the decades, from the paving of the “turnpike” up the mountain from Lenoir, to an ordinance passed years ago to keep livestock fenced in — and off of Main Street — and to the more recent NCDOT project to widen U.S. 321, among others.
But few historical moments match the current one: A landmark economic driver of yesteryear – Blowing Rock Hospital – will be closing permanently, yielding to a bigger, more technologically advanced facility that best responds to the demands of today’s (and tomorrow’s) High Country healthcare market.
Networks offering post-acute care typically have a leg up on managing cost and quality.
Major contributors were feted on September 15, with a well-attended, public ribbon cutting-type celebration the next day. Hundreds of workers scrambled to get things picture perfect for those occasions and not even the foggy conditions that enveloped Chestnut Ridge on the 16th put a damper on things — or the oohs and ahhhs that accompanied the guests’ first look at the new facilities.
Colloquially billed these days as “Chestnut Ridge,” it is more accurately monikered, “The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge,” recognizing a $3.75 million financial contribution from benefactors Dennis and Diane Foley. The Foley Center represents an innovation in post-acute care, not just for the High Country, but perhaps nationally, too.
Editor’s Note: For a detailed look at the Blowing Rock News-published story behind the Foley’s contribution, CLICK HERE.
As recently as July 13, 2016, Hospitals & Health Networks (H&HN) noted, “Healthcare executives are facing new management challenges as payers shift more risk to (health care) providers…..hospitals are being pushed to assume greater risk for care episodes. This risk can extend well beyond the acute care discharge.”
In practical terms, the third party payers are telling the hospitals, “You can discharge patients from acute care, but you will be penalized if they need to come back for anything related to this same issue.”
So the introduction of post-acute care facilities not only makes sense for the patient’s recovery, it is a financially prudent necessity for a hospital system providing acute care.
…all part of vision that allows us to treat the right patient at the right time in the right place — with the right services.
H&HN went on to point out, “Larger integrated delivery networks that already offer post-acute care, like skilled nursing facilities and home health care services, typically have a leg up in managing cost and quality. But even these networks can face challenges if they have not invested in integrated care pathways, care management and transition resources and information systems.”
While some hospital networks may well be searching for third party post-acute partners with whom to form alliances that respond to the trends outlined by H&HN, Appalachian Regional Healthcare is on par, if not ahead of the game by its launch of The Foley Center as an operating unit of the system.
Patients who have needed acute care, such as after a life-threatening accident or heart attack, may still require medical supervision even after surgery or another therapy to treat the acute condition, but they may not require all of the very expensive resources available around them during a hospital stay.
Enter: a post-acute care facility like The Foley Center, where the professional healthcare service supplied meets the patient need. If the patient encounters a setback in recovery they can quickly be transported back to the hospital, but odds are that with the appropriate post-acute care they will eventually be sent home — all at a cost less taxing to the patient, to the third party payer, and to the healthcare system in general — with a reduced probability for the patient reappearing at the hospital with the same or similar problem.
The term, “post-acute care” refers to a range of medical care services that support an individual’s continued recovery from illness (or accident), as well as management of a chronic illness or disability.
The U.S. population is aging. Triple Tree, the largest merchant bank and strategic advisory firm solely focused on the healthcare industry projects that by 2030, some 72 million elderly Americans will age into Medicare, which is more than double the number from 2000. “This startling demographic change has tremendous implications for our society,” the 2013 Triple Treereport stated.
The U.S. population is aging.
In recent years, what we still called Blowing Rock Hospital divested itself of the kind of acute care normally associate with hospitals and transitioned to the services provided by the Blowing Rock Rehabilitation & Davant Extended Care Center as a unit of Appalachian Regional Healthcare. All of those services will now be part of The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge.
The newest transformation in High Country healthcare is already starting. This week, the Harriet and Charles Davant Medical Clinic, a primary care facility, opened its doors in the nearly 5,000 square foot space attached to The Foley Center. Within the next two weeks, the extended care patients from the soon-to-close Blowing Rock Hospital will start arriving at the new Chestnut Ridge, once all of the appropriate inspections, licensing and permitting of the 87,500-square foot post-acute care, skilled nursing care and palliative care facility are complete.
The other half of this watershed moment in Blowing Rock history of course, is what follows the closure of the old Blowing Rock Hospital. Thanks to a development effort led by Hunt Broyhill, the old building will be torn down and in its place a small complex of million dollar condominium residences. Real estate purists are sure to offer that luxury residences with billion dollar views of Grandfather Mountain, especially in the middle of other residential neighborhoods, represent the highest and best use of the property.
Over the past decade, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System chief executive officer Richard Sparks has frequently referred to the system’s development of a “Continuum of Care” that offers High Country residents and visitors a full spectrum of comprehensive medical and healthcare services, from birth to death.
Blowing Rock Hospital was a major factor in providing updated, more timely healthcare services to Blowing Rock residents and visitors in the 1950s.
“Chestnut Ridge, The Foley Center and the Davant Medical Clinic,” Sparks told the crowd at the public ribbon cutting on September 16, “are important pieces of that Continuum of Care. It is all part of a vision that permits us to serve the right patient, at the right time, at the right place – and with the right services.”
Sparks, who is retiring on January 27, 2017, worked tirelessly at the helm of the ARHS team to “flesh out” the various elements of what his team envisions as a Continuum of Care. ARHS Senior Vice President for System Advancement, Rob Hudspeth, reminded those attending the Foley Center ribbon cutting of Sparks’ contributions toward that vision when he noted, “Richard created countless healthcare initiatives (in the High Country), including The Wellness Center, the Cancer Center, AppUrgent, the new Breast Center, a network of physicians offering a variety of practices and services, our partnership with Appalachian State University’s College of Health Sciences, to name just a few, and now this, The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge.”
Just as the then modern-day Blowing Rock Hospital was a major factor in providing updated, more timely healthcare services to Blowing Rock residents and visitors in the 1950s, the $26+ million investment of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and its cadre of donors and benefactors is a major advancement in the service of health and medical needs of not just Blowing Rock, but the entire High Country region.
An economic impact study was not conducted for this project, but rest assured that Chestnut Ridge has major positive economic ramifications for the High Country. U.S. Senator Kay Hagan reminded us in her June 2014 announcement of an almost $427,000 grant to the project from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA), that Chestnut Ridge saves 110 jobs in Blowing Rock AND creates an estimated 59 more. These are year-round jobs, not May-to-October seasonal jobs that are characteristic of the tourism industry currently more dominant in the local economy.
As we see this development come to completion in the next couple of weeks, Blowing Rock News applauds the efforts of not only Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, but the Town of Blowing Rock, the State of North Carolina, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, and all other civic or governmental bodies that were influential in supporting the Chestnut Ridge initiative and development.