Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

When Mission Health announced it would be discontinuing labor and delivery services at Angel Medical Center in Franklin, the public was left wondering to where they would transition care. Harris Regional Hospital is a 30-minute, 23-mile drive from Franklin and stands as the next closest hospital for Macon County residents needing labor and delivery services.

After Harris Regional Hospital, the second closest hospital is Haywood Regional Hospital, 45 miles from Franklin, and then Mission Hospital in Asheville, which is 70 miles from Macon County. Mission Health plans to provide pre- and post-natal care in Franklin, and plans to encourage expectant mothers to make the trip to Asheville to deliver. But if that is not an option for them, Mission Health CEO Dr. Ron Paulus said that obstetricians can apply for privileges at Harris Hospital, to deliver babies in their facility, which considering the current $6 million renovation and expansion at the hospital, puts Harris is a good position to accept any increase in deliveries.

According to the Truven NC IP State Database, Harris Regional Hospital delivered 408 babies in 2016. The number of babies born at Harris Regional Hospital has continued to decrease since 2012, when they delivered 618 babies. Harris Regional experienced a disruption and associated practitioner movement in 2015, which drastically decreased the number of babies born at the hospital. The New Generations Family Birthing Center and expansion plan is expected to increase those numbers and provide a choice facility for expectant mothers.

Of the 408 babes delivered at Harris Regional Hospital in 2016, 33 of those families were from Macon County. That number has also decreased since 2012 when Harris delivered 122 babies from Macon County.

During a press conference held at Harris Regional the day after Mission Health announced closing Franklin’s Labor and Delivery Services, Steve Heatherly, Harris CEO, said he was as shocked as everyone else about the news. Despite Heatherly stating he hadn’t heard of the closing prior to the announcement, Mission Health CEO Dr. Paulus said that without revealing conversations, more people knew about the closing than have admitted to.

Harris Regional Hospital is a Duke LifePoint Healthcare affiliated for-profit hospital. The New Generations Family Birthing Center at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva is undergoing a $6 million renovation and will continue to serve families from Macon County and across the region with expert prenatal, obstetrical, neonatal, and pediatric care. Nearly 20 percent of all deliveries at Harris Regional Hospital are to families living in Macon County. Harris Women’s Care, with a Macon County location at Harris Regional Hospital Medical Park of Franklin, serves the obstetrical and gynecological needs of women in the outpatient setting with routine and preventive care, and access to ultrasound and digital mammography.

Harris Regional Hospital provides care that is recognized on state and national levels:

– Designation as a 4-Star Breastfeeding Friendly facility by the North Carolina Maternity Center

– Recognition by the March of Dimes for reducing to less than one percent the number of elective inductions and cesarean deliveries performed before 39 weeks of pregnancy

– Staff caring for mothers and babies at the New Generations Family Birthing Center at Harris Regional Hospital were presented with the hospital’s Blue Ribbon Award for receiving the organization’s highest patient satisfaction scores during a recent measurement period

While Harris Regional Hospital is expanding services and have said they are willing to provide care to Macon County residents, they are not legally obligated to do so. Angel Medical Center is primarily medicaid or no-pay patients, which is why Mission Health is closing Labor and Delivery in the first place. Harris Regional also doesn’t have to care for those patients. As a privately-owned, for-profit hospital, Harris Regional can turn away patients in non-emergency situations.