Local News

Franklin Medical Center to close next week

Posted October 7, 2015 1:21 p.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2015 9:17 p.m. EDT

— Novant Health announced Wednesday that it plans to close Franklin Medical Center in Louisburg at the end of next week. The move will leave Franklin County without a hospital.

Franklin Medical Center stopped admitting patients at 6 p.m., but officials said the emergency room would continue to see new patients until 7 a.m. Oct. 16. Hospital administrators will be working over the next nine days to discharge patients or transfer them to other health care facilities.

"The decision to close a hospital may be the most difficult one a health system ever faces," Patrick Easterling, senior vice president at Winston-Salem-based Novant, said in a statement. "We care deeply about our patients and the communities we serve, and this is something we take very seriously. Unfortunately, utilization of Franklin Medical Center has declined significantly over several years. Despite an outstanding staff, investments in the facility, and a reconfiguration of hospital services last fall, we were unable to create a sustainable model. As we prepare to close our doors, we are committed to doing whatever we can to help our patients and our employees during this time of transition."

A year ago, Novant eliminated most inpatient care at Franklin Medical Center, shifting the facility's focus to outpatient and emergency services. The hospital kept only 15 inpatient beds – down from 70 – and 13 of those were reserved for older patients with dementia or other behavioral problems.

"It really affected the town," said Louisburg resident, Hannah Bethea. "People had to move out maybe. People had to find jobs elsewhere."

Since then, officials said, Novant has debated the future of the hospital and possible alternatives to keep the doors open. But national health care trends, such as a growing emphasis on outpatient services and reduced reimbursements from government and private insurers, combined with the proximity of health care providers in Wake, Nash and Vance counties, necessitated the closure, they said.

People in town said that there were rumors that the hospital could close. Now that they know for sure, they are concerned that they are losing a life-saver.

"I think it is sad that it is gone," said Bethea.

Bethea has always known that, in an emergency, help is across the street, but it will not be there much longer.

"It could mean life or death, I think, if you are somewhere you can't get to another emergency room," said Bethea.

About 140 hospital employees will be laid off, and Novant officials said the workers would receive outplacement assistance from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Novant Health Perry Medders Medical Group, an internal medicine practice, and Novant Health Franklin General & Vascular Surgery will remain open until Dec. 7 to provide patients time to find new health care providers. After that, the two Louisburg medical offices could convert to private practices, officials said.

Last year, Vidant Pungo Hospital in Beaufort County closed, and its owner also cited financial difficulties faced by rural hospitals.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal walked to Washington, D.C., and to Raleigh to raise awareness of the problems his town faced without easy access to a hospital, and the General Assembly passed legislation this summer – Gov. Pat McCrory hasn't yet signed it – that would allow the hospital to bypass some state regulations and reopen if the local community can raise the needed money.

Louisburg Mayor pro tem Boyd Sturges said local leaders have not given up hope.

"I think the folks in the county are going to work very hard and I think that certainly there needs to be a hospital iN Louisburg for the underserved medical populations that need it," said Sturges.

The website for Franklin Medical Center now just lists the closing announcement and a link to request medical records.