HCA Healthcare executives share new mental health facility details

BOSS MAN: Greg Lowe, president of HCA Healthcare North Carolina Division, spoke to Asheville's Council of Independent Business Owners on June 2. He encouraged attendees to support HCA's plans to open two additional emergency rooms in Asheville. Photo by Jessica Wakeman

The Council of Independent Business Owners heard from HCA Healthcare executives at its June 2 breakfast meeting at UNCA’s Sherrill Center. HCA Healthcare, a Nashville-based company, owns Mission Health, the health care system that operates Mission Hospital and other local health care facilities. HCA Healthcare purchased nonprofit Mission for $1.5 billion in 2019.

Greg Lowe, president of HCA Healthcare North Carolina Division, shared highlights from Mission Health’s 2022 Community Impact Report. He said that Mission Health is responsible for WNC’s only children’s hospital, pediatric emergency room, pediatric intensive care unit and Level 3 neonatal intensive care unit (serving babies born before 32 weeks’ gestation). Lowe also touted Angel Medical Center, a 30-bed hospital in Franklin that opened in September, and Mission Hospital’s plan to upgrade its Mother-Baby Unit and its Burn Center.

Lowe said Mission Health is seeking to build two new free-standing emergency department facilities: one in South Asheville and one in West Asheville. “We are in a unique market — in larger metropolitan areas, there are typically five or six hospitals, maybe 10 hospitals, and every one has an emergency department,” he says. “We need to offload some of the ER volume that’s coming into Mission Hospital.”

Lowe mentioned two upcoming public hearings with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services regarding the two proposed ERs. “We’ve got other health institutions that don’t want us to build these and serve the community,” Lowe said, and he encouraged audience members to access a QR code to write a letter in support of HCA.

Behavioral health center update

The majority of the June 2 CIBO meeting focused on plans for the Sweeten Creek Mental Health and Wellness Center, a 120-bed hospital that will provide behavioral health services. The hospital will add another 38 beds for acute behavioral health care in the area, Lowe said.

Melina Arrowood, chief operating officer of HCA Health Care and behavioral health services at Mission Hospital, said the Sweeten Creek Mental Health and Wellness Center will serve pediatric, adolescent, adult and geriatric patients. It has been designed with features intended for patients undergoing behavioral health treatment, including a “psych-safe playground” for young patients. She noted that Mission Hospital is currently the only hospital in WNC that provides behavioral health services for children.

Currently, Mission Health employs 14 psychiatrists, Arrowood said, and eight additional full-time psychiatrists have been hired for the Sweeten Creek facility. Like other current Mission Health facilities, Sweeten Creek will provide an intensive outpatient program, which a patient attends three days per week, and a partial hospitalization program, which a patient attends five days per week. She explained that the center aims to add an IOP and a PHP in its adolescent unit and that management is already hiring to start the adolescent IOP. Currently, Copestone — the behavioral health services unit of Mission Health located on the St. Joseph Campus — is one of the only facilities in WNC that provides electroconvulsive therapy. All staff from Copestone will move to the Sweeten Creek facility, but other services will remain in the St. Joseph Campus, says HCA spokesperson Nancy Lindell.

Arrowood noted that each Sweeten Creek unit will have a separate outdoor courtyard, so different age demographics will be kept separate; the cafeteria has large TV screens for hosting movie nights or watching sports; and many indoor walls have murals. “We didn’t want things to be bland, we wanted things to be colorful,” she said.

During the question-and-answer portion, one man asked if Mission Health anticipated treating many individuals who are experiencing a mental illness crisis and could also be unhoused.

Patients in a mental health crisis “often present to the emergency department,” Arrowood explained, and Mission Hospital has a psychiatrist in the ER. “We do take care of a lot of people who struggle with homelessness,” she said, and “we work really hard to get them connected to services outside the hospital,” such as Vaya Health and RHA Health Services, which provide mental health care.

Arrowood added that not everyone who is in a mental health crisis needs to be in an inpatient unit, which is meant for individuals who pose an immediate threat to themselves or others.

Another man in the audience remarked to the speakers, regarding the Sweeten Creek facility, “You’re going to be the clearinghouse for all the homeless.” In response, Lowe explained that not all unhoused people require behavioral health services and that behavioral health hospitals provide acute beds, which are not required for every person with behavioral health struggles.

Another audience member asked about safety features at the Sweeten Creek facility. Arrowood responded that the building was designed with many safety features and that staff will receive Crisis Prevention Intervention training and wear personal alarm systems.

Arrowood said furniture is currently being moved into the Sweeten Creek facility. Lindell tells Xpress the ribbon-cutting should take place mid-July, and pending permits, it could open to patients beginning in August.

Do you have more to add to this story? Contact the author at jwakeman [at] mountainx.com.


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About Jessica Wakeman
Jessica Wakeman is an Asheville-based reporter for Mountain Xpress. She has been published in Rolling Stone, Glamour, New York magazine's The Cut, Bustle and many other publications. She was raised in Connecticut and holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from New York University. Follow me @jessicawakeman

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