Franklin aldermen vote no to hospice grant
Hospice House of WNC suffered a setback last week when the Franklin Board of Aldermen made a split decision not to support the organization’s application for a $100,000 Department of Commerce grant.
“It’s a worthy cause. That was not the question,” said Verlin Curtis, vice-mayor. “The problem was it looked like that their raising the money and being able to complete the project on time was not going to happen.”
Originally, board members had thought that supporting the grant would be more of a gesture than a responsibility. But as the town attorney and town manager examined the fine print, they found some stipulations that gave them pause.
As it turned out, the hospice house would be required to complete construction and hire six new employees within 18 months of receiving the grant money. Those employees would have to then stay on the payroll for at least six months.
“If they didn’t get the project finished on time, the money could have had to be paid back and if they didn’t have the resources to do that it would have been up to the town,” Curtis said.
Hospice House of WNC currently has a little less than $2 million of the $4 million price tag raised. Curtis and the three other commissioners who voted with him were nervous that the other funds might not fall into place and, if the hospice house couldn’t find $100,000 to cover the grant, the town could be stuck with the balance.
Alderwoman Barbara McCrae understands that point of view but didn’t agree with the majority, instead voting with Joyce Handley to support the grant.
“I felt it was not a very large risk for helping to create ten jobs and bring this service to Franklin,” McRae said. “It was just a matter of how risk adverse you are, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for disagreeing with me.”
Michele Alderson, the hospice house’s president, said she has no hard feelings toward the board but hopes that their decision might change in the future. The foundation has until the end of the year to accept or decline the grant.
“Everyone on the board is supportive of doing this for us,” Alderson said. “It’s just we have to work out these details for their liability.”
As is, the foundation is hoping to break ground on the construction project by the beginning of 2015. They own the property, the beds and a building to serve as a chapel and family area but are planning to build a 10,000-square-foot addition to house 12 patient suites.
“There’s 59 hospice houses in North Carolina but none to serve Western North Carolina, and that’s why this project is so important,” Alderson said. “We have hospice home care in our area but we don’t have the inpatient facility for patients to go for respite, symptom and pain management.”
The closest hospice facility is MedWest Haywood’s Hospice and Palliative Care, a one-hour-plus trek for many people who could be served by the new facility. Macon, Swain, Jackson, Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties, as well as northern Georgia, would all be in the new facility’s coverage area.
“It’s a friendly situation,” Alderson said of the board’s vote. “There’s no animosity as far as the town and us at all. They want to work it out and they just want to explore more options, and that’s what we’re doing now.”