Jan 14, 2024

Mission's Sweeten Creek Mental Health Center to open in Asheville

ASHEVILLE – HCA Healthcare executives, Mission Health providers, state and local politicians and community members gathered for the ribbon cutting of Mission’s $65 million, 82,000 square-foot, Sweeten Creek Mental Health and Wellness Center July 18.

The opening of the facility fulfills part of for-profit HCA’s 2019 agreement to acquire Mission Hospital. HCA was contractually obligated to build a 120-bed inpatient behavioral health hospital within five years of obtaining necessary permits for the project.

“Behavioral health is an incredibly growing health care issue, and not only here in Western North Carolina, but across the state and nationally,” HCA Healthcare North Carolina President Greg Lowe said at the event. "We are incredibly proud and honored to be a part of expanding services to patients here in western North Carolina and from the surrounding region that seek care in our facilities. And just being able to be a part of that is really pretty humbling.”

The facility has five different units: two for adults with different levels of sickness, one for geriatrics, one for children ages 4 to 12 and one for children ages 13 to 17; according to Arrowood, this is not a hard rule; the facility will place patients where they are best suited. Each age group has access to their own private fenced courtyard. They will not intermingle with each other. Frosted glass keeps patients in other wings from looking into the kids’ units. It will also provide outpatient services for patients to prevent the need for hospitalization, or as a step down for an inpatient stay.

Each room except two has two beds. Depression, anxiety, mania, trauma and PTSD are among the illnesses the facility is equipped to treat, according to Dr. Ed Kelley, the medical director at the Sweeten Creek facility.

“Everyone will be in a double occupancy room unless they have some type of clinical reason to not to be or if you don’t have the right mix of patients,” Melina Arrowood, HCA’s chief operating officer for behavioral health services at Mission Hospital said to the Citizen Times during a July 17 tour of the facility.

Arrowood explained that the hospital only puts people of the same sex in the same room. She said there are benefits to having a roommate ― people need social interaction, someone to talk to and somebody to process things with. A roommate can also alert staff if their counterpart is attempting self-harm.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley said during the event that treating behavioral health and physical health separately drives up the cost of care.

“Behavioral health is essential to health,” Kinsley said. He later said he believed this moment was “an inflection point in Western North Carolina of investing in more resources for behavioral health.”

Mission and HCA have come under fire from regulators, patients and doctors recently. A Canton family is suing the hospital and their OB-GYN for their role in a botched delivery. A longtime gynecological oncologist is accusing Mission Hospital and HCA Healthcare of incorrectly placing him on and failing to remove him from a national medical malpractice database, resulting in him not being able to find work. The office of State Attorney General Josh Stein sent a letter to Lowe about the state of Mission's medical oncology practice. North Carolina initially granted AdventHealth a certificate of need to build a 67-bed hospital in Buncombe County over Mission, which has appealed the decision.

Kinsley did not answer a Citizen Times question about his confidence in HCA to run the facility.

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The Sweeten Creek facility does not have an emergency room. According to Arrowood, if a patient arrives at the facility experiencing a psychiatric emergency, the hospital would call an ambulance that would take them to Mission. She noted that while the ambulance was on its way, Sweeten Creek providers would keep the patient safe.

“Any patient that goes to the emergency department, gets medical clearance there, a medical screening exam by an ER physician. Once that happens and they're deemed stable to come here, then they would be admitted here,” Arrowood said.

Patients can go to the new facility after a referral from a physician, but only after they undergo a medical screening in an emergency room according to Dr. Kelley.

According to Arrowood, HCA will not use a staffing agency for Sweeten Creek. Everyone who works at the hospital will be a Mission employee. Arrowood said that they have filled almost all nursing positions at the hospital and aim to have a nurse-to-patient ratio between 1-to-6 to and 1-to-8.

Sweeten Creek is still hiring social workers, behavioral health technicians, patient care technicians and therapists. Eight new physicians will begin at the facility when it opens. Four of them are recent graduates of the nearby Mountain Area Health Education Center.

Arrowood said that security will always be staffed.

The facility will open to patients in August although a specific day has not been set.

Mitchell Black covers Buncombe County and healthcare for the Citizen Times. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MitchABlack. Please help support local journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

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