Novant Moving to Fill Local Void - TribPapers

Novant Moving to Fill Local Void

Novant intends to build physician office spaces at the former location of Gold's Gym on Hendersonville Road.

Asheville – On April 30, Novant Health announced that it had applied for a certificate of need to build a 26-bed cancer center in Buncombe County. The facility is described as a “cancer-focused” hospital, and Novant is currently in negotiations to buy property for it at 455 Long Shoals Road. It will feature an emergency department, imaging services, and a pharmacy.

John Mann, MD, a general surgeon with Novant, said, “We’ve met with local physicians and listened to what they have to say, and as a result, we’ve learned a great deal about what Western North Carolina needs.”

Novant’s President and CEO Carl S. Armato said, “We are excited about this new opportunity to bring much-needed compassionate care and lifesaving innovation to the region. We’ve already taken steps to preserve cancer care access in partnership with respected local surgeons, and we look forward to building on that momentum with this proposed hospital.”

These remarks betray awareness of discontent expressed by several former Mission oncologists. Michael Messino, MD, founder of Cancer Care of Western North Carolina, which operated under the aegis of Mission Hospital, is now retired, but he was among the physicians who signed the infamous open letter to Mission HCA. Messino complained that HCA was “unable to guarantee the support needed for [patients requiring acute leukemia therapy], such as specific laboratory services, pharmacy support, and adequate nursing staffing with trained individuals familiar with the treatment for these patients.”

When it was time to renew its contract with Mission HCA, CCWNC spun off into independent practice and was renamed Messino Cancer Centers. Messino said the split was due to HCA’s business model of self-destructive downsizing. Messino even stopped sending some of his patients to Mission HCA due to gaps in the continuum of oncological care. Late last year, Michael Burke, MD, the last standing oncologist at Mission, left.

Messino felt Mission HCA was being unrealistic in its belief that it could just go out and hire oncologists to replace the institutional knowledge of the 14 that left with him in an era where good and dedicated doctors are hard to find. A shortage of oncologists has concerned industry analysts for at least 15 years, leading Past President of the American Medical Association Barbara L. McAneny, MD, to call attention to forecasts that, without a midcourse correction, “oncologists are going to be seeing 25 to 30 patients a day with a variety of cancer types.”

In addition to filling a dearth of oncological services in the local market, the Long Shoals Road facility would be backed up by the Novant Health Cancer Institute. There are currently seventeen of these institutes in and around Charlotte and Winston-Salem. They take a comprehensive approach to treating cancer, with a one-stop shop for prevention education, diagnosis, discussion of available options including clinical trials, treatment, and follow-up. Novant is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for treating over 100 types of cancer, and it offers support for those with no known cure.

Following the rejection of its bid for a certificate of need to construct a 67-bed hospital to serve the Buncombe County area, Novant has been working its way into the area slowly. Novant opened three GoHealth urgent care centers last May. Locations at 201 NC-9 in Black Mountain and at 674 Merrimon Avenue and 349 New Leicester Highway in Asheville were formerly Range Urgent Care centers. Among other services, these offer walk-in and scheduled appointments as well as telehealth visits to treat allergies, infections, colds, flu, and COVID; provide first-aid; and perform labs.

Then, in November of last year, Novant Health Surgical Partners – Biltmore opened on 80 Peachtree Road in Asheville. At the time, Novant made no secret of its intentions to expand in the area. The practice has since grown from six local specialists to ten, covering a wide range of surgeries. As with its other practices, Novant describes this as providing comprehensive support by physicians who explain to patients “all available treatment pathways” to empower them to make fully-informed decisions.

Novant is also the parent company of Open MRI & Imaging of Asheville, located at 675 Biltmore Avenue, just south of Mission Hospital. With 45 radiologists on staff, the office building offers MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, and arthrograms.

More recently, Novant signed a lease with Rusty Pulliam for a property at 1815 Hendersonville Road. The 38,820-square-foot former Gold’s Gym would be transformed into a multispecialty medical office building.

Headquartered in Winston-Salem, the not-for-profit Novant Health operates 19 hospitals, 850 outpatient facilities, 30 imaging centers, and 720 physician clinics in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. It employs 35,000 and works with almost 2,000 physicians.