UNC Health Care has shelved plans to add about 300 beds to the hospital on the UNC campus and instead will build a 100-bed hospital in Hillsborough.
The decision represents a priority reversal dictated primarily by the economic downturn. The organization that runs UNC Hospitals had planned to add to the Chapel Hill campus first and then build a smaller facility at Carolina North.
Then “the world economy went in the ditch,” said CEO and medical school Dean Bill Roper. “The effects on us have been dramatic. Hospital revenues are down 30 to 40 percent.”
Roper said the impact of the economy on individuals also had produced a “tidal wave” of uninsured patients seeking treatment at the hospital. UNC Health Care also had counted on the state for about half the $750 million cost of a bed tower addition.
“Obviously, the state’s not going to give us that money right now.”
UNC Health Care has an option to buy 83 acres of land just off Interstate 40 in Hillsborough. Pending state approvals, Roper hopes a full-service hospital could open there in three to four years. He said that Chapel Hill medical staff have responded enthusiastically to working there and that the facility would offer general and outpatient surgery, orthopedics, and family and internal medicine, as well as emergency service. More critical cases would continue to be handled at the campus hospital, he said.
That hospital is operating at capacity all the time now, Roper said, and a bed tower addition still will be needed in the future.
He said that UNC Health Care looked at several sites and that the Hillsborough location was a rare find of a large undeveloped site. It expects to pay $17.5 million from the UNC Hospitals capital budget.
The economy also has hit the medical school’s proposed expansion. Proposed regional medical schools in Charlotte and Asheville have been put on hold indefinitely due to a lack of funding. The plan was for UNC to grow its first-year classes to 230 from 160 students, starting in fall 2010, to meet the needs of the state’s growing population and to place some third- and fourth-year students in Charlotte and Asheville. An internal study over the past two years concluded that the UNC expansion was more efficient than building a new free-standing school in Charlotte.
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