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Charlotte Area

Hospitals Make Pitch For Inpatient Beds

Michael Tomsic

Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health insist they need more beds to treat patients in Mecklenburg County. They made their cases to the state during a public meeting Tuesday in Charlotte. But the state won't let them both get as many beds as they want.

Novant wants to add 17 inpatient beds at Huntersville Medical Center. Chief Nursing Officer Trina King says the hospital is consistently at least 80 percent full. And she recalled when another hospital recently wanted to transfer a patient.

"We were at 100 percent capacity, so we were unable to meet that patient's request," she said. "We would have had to bring that patient to our emergency department and have them stay there overnight, which is not an ideal situation for patients."

And here's how Dr. Ehab Sharawy describes the need.

"These beds really are to meet a current need that was really yesterday," he said. "But I would take it a step further and say we know that there's also future growth."

Us too, says Bill Leonard of Carolinas HealthCare System.

"CMC continues to operate at about 90 percent occupancy on average," he said.

CMC is the system's flagship hospital, and Leonard said it's been dealing with an overflow of patients for more than two years. So the system wants to add 34 beds at nearby CMC-Mercy and 6 beds at CMC-University.

"While the beds we are proposing to add will not be located at CMC, the proposed beds will take care of the patients that generated the need for additional beds in Mecklenburg County," Leonard said.

Each side also had patients help make their case at the public hearing. Their message was the hospitals do great work, so they should get more beds.

Here's Bill Voerster from Charlotte, who had acute pancreatitis a while back.

"My experience at CMC-Mercy was really quite exceptional," he said. "I was there for three weeks. I know that if anything ever happens to me again and I end up there, I want to be sure there's a bed for me, or for anybody else."

And then there was Bill Russell, president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

"My wish is that both requests by CHS and Novant Health could be approved," he said.

But that can't happen because of state law. North Carolina is one of about 30 states that have a certificate of need program for inpatient hospital beds. The state uses a formula to project needs, and this year, it projected Mecklenburg County needs 40 more. 

Craig Smith oversees this process in North Carolina. He said it's designed to keep costs down.

"Unnecessary capital expenditures are a driver in health care cost," he said.

Smith said if hospitals think the formula is off, they can petition for changes. That didn’t happen this year, so Novant and Carolinas HealthCare are left fighting for the 40 beds. The state will make its decision around March.