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Haywood Healthcare Foundation will help fund proposed HCC facility

A red line outlines the site of the proposed Haywood Community College Health and Human Services building. HCC photo A red line outlines the site of the proposed Haywood Community College Health and Human Services building. HCC photo

Last month, Haywood Community College President Dr. Barbara Parker told Haywood commissioners that HCC wanted a new $7.2 million facility that would augment the school’s ability to train and produce badly-needed medical professionals.

It was a tall order, for sure, but Parker brought to the table $2.8 million from the Connect NC Bond passed in 2015, which will be forfeited if not used by 2021. With the clock ticking and a tight county budget that would swell considerably if the building is funded in that way, the Haywood Healthcare Foundation stepped in to save the day.

“That window is fast closing, so someone had to step up and make that commitment,” said Anthony Sutton, chairman of the HHF board of trustees executive committee. “The foundation board takes as its primary project and its main activity through funding the creation of the Health and Human Services building at Haywood Community College. That’s a commitment of between $4.5 and $5 million for construction of the building.”

Founded in 1978, HHF had long served as a fundraising apparatus for the Haywood Regional Medical Center, but when HRMC was sold to Duke LifePoint in 2014, HHF found itself unable to fundraise for the for-profit Duke hospital. In October 2017, commissioners voted to allow HHF to administer $20 million in restricted funds resulting from the sale.

“Our goal is to not use the principal on the money we received from the sale of the hospital,” said Sutton, “but we will fund the debt service [on the HCC building] by using interest from a portion of those funds.”

Sutton said he expects HHF’s financial involvement to last about 10 years, and that the new building will not only help provide better health care for residents of the county and the region, but will also help drive economic development.

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“With the changing demographics in our community, we will definitely have a demand for these positions,” he said; Haywood’s population trends older than average, and is only becoming more so, meaning a steady supply of RNs and LPNs will be needed for years to come.

“It’s imperative that we have additional nurses in the community. I think they average about $50,000 a year, so they are very good-paying jobs,” Sutton said. “These individuals are in the community and will go back into the community. It will be a great boost to the medical facilities in the area.”

Upon completion, the new building will churn out 50 RNs a year, 12 more than at present, and 15 more LPNs. Additionally, by 2023 the EMS program must become a two-year degree program, so the new building will give HCC the ability to produce 30 EMTs each year as well.

“This will be good,” said Kevin Ensley, chairman of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners. “It’s good to see the community college getting back to its vocational roots. This new building will create lots of good jobs.”

Ensley, along with other commissioners, seemed supportive of Parker’s request initially, and were trying to work out a funding scheme until news of HHF’s potential involvement began to circulate.

“I think we would have had some [budget] room,” Ensley said. “It would have been tight for four or five years, but now we don’t have to worry about that.”

Ensley said that HHF’s backing would free up money at the county level that could be used for some of the other improvements Parker requested on the school’s aging infrastructure.

According to Sutton, HHF will continue to raise money to support the endeavor, and that ongoing community support of HHF will be crucial.

“We are going to be looking at grants and all other avenues where funds come from, but we are going to do fundraising in our community, because RNs and nurses affect every individual in the county,” said Sutton. “They touch every person in the county, and this will be a project that will give benefit to the community for generations to come.”

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