Local and state public officials are waiting in anticipation as the acquisition of two Iredell County hospitals hinges on a decision that could come down as early as tomorrow.
Earlier last year, Novant Health announced its acquisition of Mooresville’s Lake Norman Regional Medical Center and Statesville’s Davis Regional Medical Center — including their physician clinics and outpatient services — from the subsidiaries of Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, Inc. (CHS).
The $320 million acquisition is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to go before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) — which has to review purchases exceeding $101 million — this week.
If the FTC does not approve the acquisition and CHS doesn’t want to keep the two hospitals, it’s unclear what would happen to them. It’s possible that Mooresville could end up without a hospital. Novant Health is the region’s second-largest healthcare system, just behind Atrium Health, and it is the only healthcare system that has shown public interest in purchasing the hospitals and their clinics and services.
Public officials locally and across the state are anticipating the decision, particularly because of the potential impact on emergency services, regional mental healthcare and economic development.
“If this doesn’t go through, will we have no hospital in Mooresville? That’s the stuff that keeps me up at night,” said Mooresville Commissioner Lisa Qualls. “That would put a lot of pressure on Iredell Health Systems, which has already been a bit overwhelmed since Davis closed its emergency department. To overwhelm that facility and those caregivers only means that patients — you or your family members — will have longer waits in an emergency facility. And Heaven forbid there’s a wreck on I-77! Getting to the closest hospital would be a 20- to 30-minute drive in good traffic.”
In emergencies, quality healthcare — and its accessibility — matters, said Mooresville Police Chief Ron Campurciani. “Location of quality healthcare is important because we don’t want to have to go to Charlotte for everything,” he said. “When a town grows, the quality of healthcare is just an automatic. I think it would be great for Mooresville to have quality healthcare, whoever that is.”
Iredell EMS Director Blair Richey said any expanded healthcare services would help first responders and the county’s already-taxed, short-staffed hospitals. “It’s always best for EMS to stay in the county,” she said, explaining that it helps hasten the time EMS spends transporting patients to hospitals, which frees them up to be back on the road quicker.
“We would definitely look forward to any expanded services that could be brought to Iredell County,” Richey said.
Mooresville Fire Chief Curt Deaton agrees the town needs a high-quality hospital system. “Having a hospital that has capabilities to save lives without having the patients transferred to other hospitals is crucial to the survivability of a critical patient,” he said. “We as first responders strive to deliver the highest level of service possible to our citizens to give them the best chance of survival. Having a great hospital system greatly enhances the abilities to recover from an illness or injury.”
Iredell County Commissioner Gene Houpe said local healthcare has to keep up with growth and demand, and he said he hopes an infusion from another top-notch health system would help do just that. “We are too often having to transport to out-of-county hospitals because our existing two are so busy,” he said. “Surrounding counties’ citizens come to our hospitals because treatment in their counties is taxed or nonexistent. This creates a problem for our EMS units being tied up longer than necessary.”
N.C. Rep. Jeff McNeely said he is “extremely grateful” that Novant Health is considering the purchase of Davis, which serves the district he represents. “In the Statesville area and above in Iredell County, we are in desperate need of emergency healthcare and more,” he said. “Iredell Memorial Hospital has done an incredible job, but their emergency rooms are being overwhelmed.”
McNeely said time is of the essence. “I hope this acquisition will proceed forward as soon as possible. Lives are at stake.”
He also vowed his assistance: “My office and I will be glad to help facilitate this process any way we can,” McNeely said. “Thank you to Novant Health for hopefully helping the people of Iredell have better health outcomes.”
The chair of Iredell County’s board of commissioners is weighing in on the acquisition, too. “The medical and mental health needs of our growing county are very critical, and our citizens deserve the best care possible,” said Board Chair Melissa Neader. “Plus, surrounding counties’ residents drive to Iredell for care. In addition, during conversations with Vice-Chairman (Bert) Connolly, we feel it could be beneficial to see a Trauma center located here as well to serve citizens.”
Continuing to offer quality mental health services is a primary concern of N.C. Sen. Vickie Sawyer. Upon hearing news of the acquisition last year, she said, “My initial and main concern was if Davis Hospital will continue to focus on the mental health services that our community so desperately needs.”
CHS closed Davis’s emergency department in August 2022 to convert the 146-bed hospital into an inpatient facility for behavioral health services. Novant supports expanding emergency services in the region and has also vowed to continue its historically strong support of mental healthcare and trauma-informed care resources.
“As a region, we have to have mental health services,” said Mooresville’s Qualls. “We can’t have patients spending three days laying in an emergency room waiting on a bed. We have one great healthcare system in our area, but it’s not enough for the growth we’re experiencing. There are not enough facilities.”
Sen. Sawyer said she is encouraged by Novant’s commitment to providing quality healthcare, including for mental health. “I am pleased to see that Novant remains committed to not only continuing mental health services, but to also restore Lake Norman Regional back to a Level II NICU and to enhance cardiac care capabilities for patients,” she said. “Novant offers access to a network of highly skilled physicians, nurses and caregivers along with access to state-of-the-art medicinal treatments that will enhance healthcare access in Iredell County.”
Troutman Town Manager Ron “Duck” Wyatt said he is pleased that Novant Health — “a company with a history of taking care of all medical needs” — is purchasing both CHS-owned facilities in Iredell County.
“I do not know if this acquisition will alter Iredell Memorial’s decisions to continue expanding healthcare in the county or Atrium’s intent to grow in our community,” Wyatt said. “I think that with the population increase, citizens need to have quality local healthcare without driving south or east to other counties for healthcare. I hope these acquisitions by Novant are a step in that direction.”
Added Mooresville Mayor Chris Carney: “It can only help our citizens to have a higher quality of healthcare in their hometown, and we should support that.”
Qualls said in addition to Iredell’s growing healthcare needs, the economic impact of potentially shutting down two county hospitals should be considered. “What kind of message does it send to companies looking to relocate and bring jobs here?” she asked. “If we want to continue to attract people who want to move their companies here, how embarrassing would it be for the state to be a part of the announcement that we’re closing a hospital in the fastest-growing region of North Carolina?”