WakeMed proposes new Garner hospital and a new 150-bed mental health hospital

·4 min read
Chuck Liddy/cliddy@newsobserver.com

WakeMed is seeking permission from the state to build a new hospital in Garner and a new 150-bed mental health hospital somewhere in eastern Wake County.

The WakeMed Garner Hospital would have 45 acute care beds, two operating rooms and a full-service emergency department with 24 beds. It would be at the corner of White Oak Road and Timber Drive.

WakeMed has not chosen a site for the mental health hospital, which would have separate units for adolescents, young adults, adults and people older than 65. The hospital would also offer outpatient services.

WakeMed hopes to break ground on both projects by fall 2024 and open sometime in 2027.

But first, both proposals require a “certificate of need” from the state, through a process that aims to prevent hospitals from building unnecessary facilities that drive up health care costs or hurt quality. State regulators have decided that because of population growth Wake County can support 45 more acute care hospital beds and two additional operating rooms.

Competition from UNC and Duke

WakeMed will have competition from the Triangle’s other two big hospital systems.

Duke University Health System plans to apply to have all 45 beds added to Duke Raleigh Hospital on Wake Forest Road, according to Dr. Monte Brown, vice president for administration.

“This offers a cost-effective approach to expanding services to Wake County,” Brown said in a written statement.

Meanwhile, UNC Health has proposed adding 36 beds to UNC Rex hospital in Raleigh and 9 to Rex hospital in Holly Springs, which opened last fall, according to spokesman Alan Wolf.

Wolf also cited cost as a potential factor in the state’s decision. WakeMed says its Garner hospital would cost about $214 million, including the land.

But UNC says it would use existing space, at both Rex in Raleigh and Holly Springs, and can provide 45 acute care beds and two operating rooms for $23.2 million.

“UNC Health Rex is proposing a much more cost-effective plan to add capacity at our existing hospitals and meet increasing demand across Wake County,” Wolf said in an email. “We believe our proposal will better serve future generations of patients across our fast-growing region.”

But neither Rex hospital nor Duke Raleigh are convenient to people in the Garner area, counters Donald Gintzig, president and CEO of WakeMed Health & Hospitals.

“It isn’t about people getting in their car and having to drive for their acute care,” Gintzig said at a press conference Monday. “It’s how do we get as much care, reasonably affordable, in their immediate area so that they can access care where they live and where they work.”

WakeMed already operates a 12-bed emergency department in Garner as part of what it calls the WakeMed Garner Healthplex, off U.S. 70. If the new hospital is approved, the healthplex and its outpatient services would move to the new site and its emergency department would be folded into the new facility.

Garner would be WakeMed’s fourth acute care hospital, after Cary, North Raleigh and its main campus off New Bern Avenue in Raleigh.

Demand for mental health services grows

WakeMed already has state approval to build a 50-bed mental health hospital but needs a total of 150, Gintzig said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of patients seeking mental health treatment at WakeMed emergency rooms has increased 25%, amounting to 40,000 additional visits a year, he said.

“As the pandemic took its toll on our community’s families, we quickly realized that a 50-bed mental health hospital is not enough,” he said in a written statement. “While the new facility will be a WakeMed entity, it will be part of our entire community’s concerted effort to provide more abundant, specialized inpatient and outpatient mental health and substance use care and services to the residents of our region.”

The stress of the pandemic has helped people see mental health in a new way, said Dr. Micah Krempasky, chief medical officer for WakeMed Behavioral Health.

“As a psychiatrist, I’ve been waiting on this moment where people want to talk about mental illness and we’re not afraid of the stigma anymore,” Krempasky said at the press conference. “We’re recognizing that people are suffering. And I think this is a really exciting time to be building a psychiatric hospital so that we can show that mental health care is just like medical care. It’s an illness, and it deserves treatment.”

While it hasn’t chosen a site, WakeMed wants the mental health hospital to be reasonably close to WakeMed’s main campus on the east side of Raleigh, said Rick Shrum, WakeMed’s chief strategy officer.

“A lot of our behavioral health need shows up at our Raleigh campus,” Shrum said at the press conference. “For transportation purposes, having it close to the main campus would be helpful.”

The mental health hospital, which doesn’t yet have a name, would cost $142 million and employ as many as 260 people.