CORNELIUS – There’s more to opening a hospital than simply building it and inviting the public.

North Carolina is one of 36 states to employ certificate of need laws that determine the number of hospital beds, operating rooms and other medical services. State legislators might get rid of such laws, however.

N.C. Sen. Jeff Tarte (R-Cornelius), vice-chairman of the Senate Health Care Committee, will join members of Novant Health and Carolinas HealthCare System to discuss certificate of need laws during an upcoming Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce Focus Friday program.

The event will be held 8:30-10 a.m. Feb. 21 at the chamber office, 19900 W. Catawba Ave.

Del Murphy, senior vice president with CHS’s management company and Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center President Tanya Blackmon will answer questions regarding the laws and their merits.

“The biggest concern facing us today is our ability to expand our healthcare facilities and meet the needs of our growing and diverse region,” said Bill Russell, president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

Russell described the program as a means of determining if the certificate of need process is a fiscally responsible state policy or one that requires healthcare providers to compete for hospital beds.


How certificate of need laws work

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services publishes a plan annually that outlines the needs for healthcare centers and services by county. 

Under the current process, applicants submit a letter of intent to fill a specific need, then a formal application, which is approved or denied based on a 90- to 150-day review period.

Blackmon told The Herald Weekly that Novant Health Huntersville supports certificate of need laws, but she wouldn’t mind some “modernization."

“We’re very mission-driven,” Blackmon said. “With the CON laws, we’ve had good success. We went from 50 to 75 beds at our hospital, we added an MRI scanner, we’ve been able to do a lot of things. I still wouldn’t mind modernizing it a bit so you could redistribute equipment and beds within your system without (going through the entire process).”
The state also approved Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center’s request in February 2013 to relocate a fifth operating room to Huntersville.

For those who believe eradicating certificate of need laws from the state would be beneficial, Blackmon cautioned that there would be drawbacks.

“If you look at eliminating it, you may have an excess of services in your community,” she said. “Someone could cherry-pick patients from hospitals, leaving the hospitals in an economic situation that would be difficult to sustain.”


How state laws affect Lake Norman providers

Certificate of need laws regulate healthcare services, including acute care, inpatient psychiatric and rehabilitation hospitals, nursing homes, hospice programs and adult-care facilities.

The state granted Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region in July 2013 to develop an 8,700-square-foot hospice house in Denver with six inpatients beds. The $3.45 million project, known as Lincoln County Hospice House, will begin serving patients in 2016.

Not every application is accepted.

A Presbyterian Imaging Center-Mooresville request in January 2013 to develop a new diagnostic center was denied. The center wanted to spend $527,683 on digital mammography equipment.

The state said PIC-Mooresville didn’t adequately justify the need for the upgrades, citing concerns over its proposed service area and cost projections.

Novant Health Huntersville and Carolinas HealthCare System are locked in a battle over beds in Mecklenburg County, where the state outlined the need for 40 more acute care beds.

Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center proposed adding 17 such beds for $2 million. CMC-Mercy requested 34 beds for $2 million. CMC-University asked to add six beds for $349,800.

The hospitals participated in a public hearing to disclose their levels of need for the beds. They also submitted comments discrediting the claims of their rivals.

Novant Health explained how its Huntersville hospital has the greatest need for the acute care beds, providing data showing how the Charlotte hospitals overstated their needs.

Carolinas HealthCare System contends that the primary need for acute care beds resides in Center City Charlotte and that its hospitals experience more growth than Novant Health. CHS also questioned Novant Health’s growth projections.

A decision on how acute care beds will be allocated is expected in late March or early April.


Justin Vick contributed to this story.