Louisburg, N.C. — A provision in the state budget lawmakers approved last week could help a hospital reopen an emergency room in Franklin County.
Novant Health closed Franklin Medical Center in Louisburg last October, saying they couldn't find an economically sustainable way to operate in the county. Since then, local officials have been unsuccessful in attempts to attract another hospital group to take over the shuttered facility.
County Board of Commissioners Chairman Sidney Dunston said Wednesday that residents and ambulances have had to travel up to 30 minutes to obtain emergency care.
"They left us in the lurch so to speak," Dunston said of Novant. "We had no emergency rooms. We were short on ambulances. We had to travel 30 miles, at least, to adjoining counties to take people."
Under current law, a health care system cannot operate a free-standing emergency room in a county unless it also operates a hospital in that county. A provision in the 2016-17 state budget would make an exception to that law for Franklin and Yadkin counties.
"(The closure) created a medical desert for emergency care services in Franklin County," said Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, whose district includes the county. "Our community went to work to try to figure out how we could solve those specific needs for this county."
Louisburg and Franklin County leaders say the budget provision should make it easier to attract a hospital in a neighboring county to reopen the emergency room at Franklin Medical Center. Additional funding for mental health beds in the budget also might attract providers, they said, adding that they hope to have a deal in place within three months.
Gov. Pat McCrory hasn't yet signed the budget, but he is expected to approve it in the coming days.