Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

In just a little more than a month, Angel Medical Center will no longer deliver babies in Franklin. July 14 will mark the last day the Labor and Delivery unit will operate in Macon County as Mission Health announced last month they would be transitioning services to Asheville, more than an hour away. Just a few weeks after announcing the closing of the Labor and Delivery Unit at AMC, Mission Health confirmed the closing of practices in Sylva providing women’s health care services.

Mission Health System didn’t announce its decision to close Mission Children’s Sylva and Mission Women’s Sylva, but employees were informed of the closing in late May. Mission Children’s Sylva and Mission Women’s Sylva came under Mission’s umbrella four years ago and will close as part of a consolidation effort with Franklin offices.

The consolidation effort with the Sylva practices will impact eight providers and 12 support staff. The offices will be moved to Franklin has part of a “Rural Health Center.” The current support staff and providers will be invited to reapply for jobs at the new, smaller rural health center location in Franklin.

While Mission Health System is pulling women and children services in Western North Carolina and transitioning services to Asheville, citing no growth in the western part of the state in those areas, Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva, which is owned by Duke Lifepoint, is expanding its women and children’s care.

“Representatives from Harris and Mission have made initial contact regarding this transition and Harris looks forward to collaborating with Mission to ensure that patients from the region, and Macon County specifically, receive the best possible care close to home,” said Steve Heatherly, CEO of Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital.

Harris Regional Hospital was already in the expansion process when the news at AMC first made headlines. The New Generations Family Birthing Center at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva is undergoing a $5.5 million renovation and will continue to serve families from Macon County and across the region with prenatal, obstetrical, neonatal, and pediatric care. Nearly a fifth 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 in Franklin, serves the obstetrical and gynecological needs of women with routine and preventive care, and access to ultrasound and digital mammography.

Harris Regional has long since provided services to Franklin, with its offices in Macon County. With the expansion of the birth center in Sylva, Harris plans to also expand services in Franklin. Harris currently provides a full service lab, imaging, physical therapy, a sleep lab and specialty physicians services including orthopedics, OB/GYN, urology, and pulmonary services in Franklin.

With the expansion of the new birthing center, Heatherly said rather than the OB-GYN just keeping office hours in Franklin, the office will be staffed with full time employees in the near future.

“Our focus is on assembling the provider complement we need to cover all of our locations throughout the region,” said Heatherly. “Harris has a longstanding history of serving patients from Macon County including operating our outpatient facility in Franklin for more than 20 years.  During the transition, we are focused on working collaboratively with stakeholders and partners in the region to make sure that patients understand their choices and have the smoothest coordination of care possible. In the longer term, we remain committed to making the investments in women’s and children’s services that we’ve already begun, including the New Generations Family Birthing Center at Harris, which is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed in November.  In addition, we will continue to recruit providers who will help us make appropriate services locally accessible so that our facility in Franklin is fully leveraged to serve Macon County.”

Over the past year, Harris has delivered 50 babies from mothers who live in Macon County, and over the last few years, have averaged around 25 percent of the births performed at Harris.

While Harris Regional is expanding in Franklin, Franklin isn’t left without providers because of AMC’s closing. Independently owned pediatric practices in Franklin like Dr. Kevin Foley has been providing healthcare from birth to 18 years old, with a full range of services for years. Dr. Foley’s is an independently owned practice and isn’t impacted by Mission or Harris.

On Monday, Mission Health announced that the Labor and Deliver Unit at Blue Ridge Hospital will also be closed in September. Mission Health wants to consolidate Mitchell County’s labor and delivery services with McDowell County’s.

Employees at Angel Medical Center and the Macon County community are still reeling from the news of labor and delivery closing and despite requests from town and county officials for a meeting or an injunction on the closing date, no such meeting has been scheduled. Employees are taking matters into their own hands and are planning a celebration on July 22, the day after the last day babies will be delivered in Franklin.

The celebration will be hosted at Currahee Brewing Company in Franklin and is intended to celebrate all the good that Angel Medical Center’s L&D staff have done.

“Just because Mission Health is taking it away from us, doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate all the good that we have done,” said a nurse of Angel Medical center. “We want to celebrate all the lives we helped bring into this world. All the babies we helped welcome. All the good we were able to be a part of. Mission can’t take that away from us.”

The celebration kicks off at 2 p.m. on July 22 and the community is invited to drop in and participate. A “wacky” award ceremony will be held at 5 p.m. to recognize the staff who have worked at labor and delivery for years.