By Taylor Sisk

As crews of workers continue the task of cleaning and mending the shuttered confines of Yadkin Valley Community Hospital, Yadkin County officials report they’ve made progress in once again providing hospital services to their constituents.

County Manager Lisa Hughes inside the abandoned hospital.
County Manager Lisa Hughes inside the abandoned Yadkin Valley Community Hospital. She said county commissioners are pondering several paths for re-opening the hospital. Photo credit: Taylor Sisk

In August, the county signed agreements with two firms to explore the financial and structural viability of reopening the hospital, which was closed in July by its previous operator, HMC/CAH Consolidated Inc.

In a press release last week, the county board of commissioners said they’ve now received the two firms’ reports and are “very pleased” with the findings. “While there is still work to do to re-open the facility, or even parts of the facility, the Commissioners are very excited with the opportunities for revitalizing health services in Yadkin County for the citizens,” the release states.

The firms, Spectrum Health Partners and Criterion Healthcare, provided overviews of their findings to the commissioners during a special meeting last Thursday night.

Tennessee-based Spectrum conducted a financial analysis that included an assessment of public support for a hospital in the county and potentially viable models.

County Manager Lisa Hughes said this week that Spectrum recommended two options.

One would be to convert the hospital into an ambulatory surgery center, but Hughes said the county isn’t interested in pursuing that option.

The other option is a full hospital with about 20 beds.

“The Spectrum report demonstrates from a financial perspective that the community has supported a hospital in the past, with an Emergency Department, diagnostics, inpatient beds and physicians’ offices,” the county’s press release reads, “but it was not managed well.”

The hospital is licensed for 22 beds, but was seldom near capacity. Hughes said Spectrum’s recommendation is for a combination of inpatient, observation and palliative care beds, along with “swing” beds that can either be used for acute care or short-term nursing home-style care. Hughes said the county might also consider introducing geriatric inpatient care in the future.

Spectrum suggests that the “proper mix of services matched with doctor recruitment and proper management will result in a very successful hospital.”

Hughes concurred, saying that more efficient management and a more attractive financial arrangement would contribute to a successful formula. She said that while HMC/CAH charged the county a 9 percent management fee, Spectrum suggests a fairer market rate is between 4 and 5 percent.

“The biggest thing to glean is that they said a hospital can work here,” Hughes said.

Criterion Healthcare conducted a physical analysis of the facility.

The current facility was built in 1952, with additions made several years later and again in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Criterion found that most of the electrical and mechanical systems throughout the facility are decentralized and self-contained. Hughes said breakers and switches from 1959 were still being used.

She said the county was aware that the HVAC system was in need of repair and that much of that work is completed.

Criterion recommended that some services be moved to other locations.

‘Amazing opportunity’

James McGraths served as the hospital’s medical director and also conducted his private practice in the facility. When the hospital was closed, his practice was likewise shut down. McGrath reopened his practice on Oct. 1, and Hughes said he’s staying busy.

She said other physicians might be moving in as soon as within the next 60 to 90 days.

James McGrath’s hospital-based practice was shut down.
James McGrath’s hospital-based practice was shut down when the hospital closed. Now he’s back working in the old facility. Photo credit: Taylor Sisk

Hughes added that the county is exploring several partnership options for operation of the hospital and that they remain in negotiations with Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in nearby Elkin about taking it over.

The board of commissioners continues to review the reports, will hold further discussions and will then develop a plan to reopen, Hughes said.

She said her guess is that the hospital will reopen “little by little, adding different services and making sure, financially, that it’s going like we want and need it to go until we get back to the point where we do have it fully reopened as a hospital.”

“We are seeing that a hospital is certainly viable in Yadkin County,” Kevin Austin, chair of the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners, said in the press release. “There is an amazing opportunity here to create a new model for healthcare, not only for Yadkin County, but one that will be the example for communities like ours all over the Country.”

Yadkin Valley Community is among three hospitals to close in rural North Carolina towns in less than two years. Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven shut down in February of last year and Franklin Medical Center in Louisburg closed earlier this month.

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