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State public health officials have announced that the Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital in Linville is the recipient of a $6.5-million grant to expand mental health and substance abuse services at the Avery County facility.
The Cannon Hospital, as well as the Duke Life Point Maria Parham Medical Center in Vance County, which was awarded more than $10 million, was given the grant “ to increase the number and availability of inpatient psychiatric and substance use treatment beds in rural hospital beds across the state,” according to a press release from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Grant applications are being accepted from hospitals in the eastern portion of the state until June 9.
The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, which the Cannon Hospital is a part of, said in a press release that the funding would help alleviate increasing pressure on the behavioral health services provided by the hospital. Hospital officials said Cannon Hospital received more than 5,000 referrals for mental health and behavioral health services in 2016, but that only 560 patients were admitted to the hospital.
The hospital currently houses a 25-bed “Critical Access Hospital” and a 10-bed behavioral health unit. The state funding will go toward converting nearly 30 medical beds into inpatient psychiatric beds at the facility. State officials said the new beds “will help reduce travel distances to inpatient beds and decrease wait times for individuals in emergency departments who need inpatient behavioral health care” and that “at least half of the beds will serve people who are unable to pay for care, or have Medicaid, Medicare, or TRICARE.”
Inpatient behavioral health services are only a portion of the healthcare provided at Cannon Hospital. The facility is home to an emergency department, surgery, imaging, outpatient behavioral health and rehabilitation.
“I want to be clear that Cannon Hospital will continue to meet the medical needs of the community by operating as a Critical Access Hospital,” Chuck Mantooth, the president and CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, said in a press release.
“These additional behavioral health beds afford us the opportunity to grow the medical campus at Cannon Hospital and to develop the rural hospital of the future model, which can be replicated across the country. These grant funds are a win for patients, our community, our healthcare system and the State of North Carolina.”
Hospital officials told Carolina Public Press on Friday that the grant money will be used to renovate the behavioral health portion of the facility, recruit staff and provide training and improve the hospital’s IT infrastructure. The exact number of new employees hasn’t been finalized, though hospital officials said through a spokeswoman that it would be a “significant” addition in staffing.
The increase in demand for mental health services at Cannon Hospital mirrors trends seen across the state. More patients needing psychiatric care are coming to hospital emergency rooms, leading to longer wait times, increased spending and longer stays in emergency departments by mental health patients, according to a report published by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in 2014.
Hospital officials said the trends show that “quite simply, there are not enough beds to meet the needs of this patient population.”