by Josh Lanier

HUNTERSVILLE – Carolinas HealthCare System last week was granted permission to build a 66-bed mental health hospital along N.C. 115.

The state approval comes after months of debate and a heated fight between the healthcare chain and Mecklenburg County.

The 71,700 square-foot, single story building will cost about $33 million to build and will employ 155 people. The 66 beds will be transferred from Broughton Hospital in Morganton.

The hospital will offer inpatient services for illnesses, psychotic, anxiety and mood disorders as well as outpatient services at a facility to be built along Old Statesville Road near Verhoeff Drive.

“The development of this new hospital moves us closer to addressing a critical need in our community for more resources to serve behavioral health patients,” said Carolinas HealthCare System Vice President Russ Guerin, in a news release. “We are eager to start construction quickly and have this new hospital open to serve patients.”

The hospital is expected to open in 2013.

There has been a great need for long-term psychiatric facilities in North Carolina, as the number of those needing psychiatric help has grown exponentially while hospitals have not had the beds necessary to house them.

One of the biggest advocates for the facility was the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, which held meetings with hospital leaders to sell the plan to business leaders.

“This is exciting news for our region and will provide a critical service to the families who have had to drive outside our community, and in some cases outlying counties, for their health needs,” Chamber President Bill Russell said in an email. “The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce strongly supported this facility for Huntersville and the Lake Norman region and is delighted the state has approved the hospital.”

Although the state has issued the Certificate of Need, the county has cried foul of the plan since it was announced earlier this year.

Expressly, they were worried the new facility would take patients away from CMC-Randolph, a mental health hospital operated by the Carolinas HealthCare System in downtown Charlotte. The Board of County Commissioners withheld their support of the Huntersville hospital, but Carolinas HealthCare officials got state lawmakers to pass a resolution allowing them to deal directly with the state, essentially bypassing county approval.