Hearing set on proposed CRH clinic
By Jon Hawley
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Elizabeth City city councilors took a step last week toward helping Chesapeake Regional Healthcare get a grant to open a new clinic, but not before Mayor Bettie Parker expressed concerns about supporting a potential competitor for Sentara Albemarle Medical Center.
Councilors voted 7-0 Thursday night to call for a public hearing on Chesapeake Regional’s application for $70,000 in state funding through a Building Reuse Grant. The grant would help the health system open a new convenience care clinic on West City Drive along Halstead Boulevard Extended.
Thursday’s vote was tentative; if council votes in favor of the proposal on Monday, the public hearing would be held on Jan. 28.
According to Chesapeake Regional, the clinic would offer primary care and other services to patients, and would accept walk-ins. The health care system is planning to invest more than $874,000 — closer to $950,000 if it gets the state grant — to renovate a vacant office space and open the clinic later this year.
In presenting Chesapeake Regional’s request on Thursday, City Manager Rich Olson explained that the Building Reuse Grant, if awarded, would cost the city some money. The city would have to contribute a 5-percent local match, which for a $70,000 grant would be $3,500.
The city’s contribution would show local support for the project, and the seven new jobs Chesapeake Regional plans to create, Olson explained. Those positions include two nurse practitioners, one X-ray technician, two medical assistants and two front-desk positions, he said.
Parker, however, questioned how beneficial the clinic would be to the city. She asked if Chesapeake Regional would be hiring locally. Olson responded that he'll encourage that, but the city cannot require it.
Parker also expressed concerns about Chesapeake Regional’s clinic potentially taking patients away from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center.
Notably, Parker served on the Albemarle Hospital Authority, an entity Pasquotank County created to oversee the hospital before the county leased it to Sentara. She also served on the hospital board during the lease negotiations with Sentara.
In light of Chesapeake Regional’s growing presence in the Elizabeth City area — it's also planning to open a clinic in Camden, she noted — Parker voiced concerns about the health system drawing paying customers away from Sentara Albemarle. The hospital is required to serve patients regardless of ability to pay, meaning it needs paying patients to offset those losses.
Parker also alluded to the hospital's requirement to treat patients even if they cannot pay, meaning it needs paying patients to offset those losses.
“I get kind of uneasy when I start seeing another entity coming in that may be competition for our hospital,” Parker said.
She continued, “If some entity like Chesapeake comes in and gets the paying customers, then Sentara Albemarle will not be able to stay, and that requires any and everybody to have to go to Chesapeake (Regional Medical Center) or in Norfolk, Sentara, for services, and that would be hard for the low-income and the uninsured.”
Sentara Albemarle officials have not said Chesapeake Regional’s growth could force the hospital to close. In recent comments, they've simply stressed their commitment to providing accessible, local care for northeastern North Carolinians.
Councilor Jeannie Young had a more favorable reaction to Chesapeake Regional’s plans. Offering more health care services could be good for the community, and competition could “cause both entities to give the very best care they can,” she said.
Councilor Darius Horton asked if Chesapeake Regional’s project would go forward without the Building Reuse Grant. Olson said he believed so.
Horton also noted the council was only voting Monday on whether to hold a public hearing on the grant, not to commit to it.
Despite her reservations, Parker voted with councilors to recommend council call for the public hearing. Parker is allowed to vote during meetings of the finance committee, which is only an advisory body, but is limited to tie-breaking votes during council meetings.