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Wednesday, 31 May 2017 13:42

Mission closes Sylva women and children’s practices

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In an effort to consolidate women’s and children’s services in Franklin, Mission Health has announced it will be closing those practices in Sylva.

Mission Children’s-Sylva and Mission Women’s-Sylva, which came under Mission’s umbrella four years ago, will likely close in September as the consolidation is completed.  

This news comes just weeks after Mission made the announcement it would discontinue labor and delivery services at Angel Medical Center in Franklin, forcing women to have to travel 25 minutes to an hour and a half to deliver their babies. 

While the labor and delivery unit will shut down as of July 14, Angel Medical will continue to provide prenatal and postnatal services in Franklin. 

“We recognize the obvious fact the majority of a woman’s care occurs before and after the delivery itself, which is one very important but nonetheless small part of the pregnancy and post-childbirth continuum. It is essential that women in Franklin have access to pre- and post-natal services as close to home as possible,” said Karen Gorby, president and Chief Nursing Officer at AMC. “Other similar services already exist in Sylva, and by converting the four existing practices into a single, integrated Rural Health Center practice, Angel will be better positioned to provide women and children with the services they need, close to home.”

Mission’s closures will impact eight providers and 12 support staff members who currently provide services in Sylva. Gorby said Mission and Angel Medical were working closely with impacted employees who are interested in transferring to Franklin or another position within Mission Health, but the exact number of employees who will transfer or leave Mission Health is unknown at this time.  

Currently, Mission has four OB/GYN physicians, three nurse midwives and one pediatrician in Franklin. Two of the OB/GYN physicians and the nurse midwives also rotate into the Sylva office.

The new consolidated practice, which Mission is referring to as a “Rural Health Center,” will be located in Franklin at 56 Medical Park Drive on the lower level of the current physician office building. It will be a combined women’s health and pediatric practice. Both of the clinics in Franklin are owned by the hospital and the Sylva location is rented, but Gorby said rental costs were not a driving factor for the decision to consolidate the practices.

“This integration of services will provide one stop access to women of all ages for prenatal, postnatal and GYN care along with pediatric care for their infants and children,” she said. 

Mission Health and Harris Regional have battled it out for years to corner the OB and pediatric care market in Sylva, but it appears Mission is now pulling out of Jackson County, leaving Harris as the sole health care provider.  

As Mission Health expanded further west a few years ago, the not-for-profit health care system made a commitment to ramp up services in the western counties. Mission brought Sylva Pediatrics — now Mission Children’s Sylva — under its umbrella in 2012 and signed a management contract with Angel Medical in 2013. 

At the time, Harris was still on unsteady financial footing as a nonprofit hospital but has been able to invest more in infrastructure and services since being bought by for-profit Duke LifePoint Health in 2014. 

Gorby said it was the uncertainty of health care in Jackson County at the time that got Mission involved. 

“Because of that history and the significant uncertainty and concern surrounding the acquisition of Harris Regional by Duke LifePoint, Mission agreed to employ several providers who had expressed concerns about the acquisition of Harris Regional and we agreed to maintain an OB practice in Sylva for them,” she said. “Similarly, the pediatricians affiliated with Harris had considered ending their practice and Mission was asked to help keep those physicians in the local area, so Mission agreed to employ those doctors as well.”

Prior to a merger in late 2015, two separate OB practices handled deliveries at Harris — privately owned practice Smoky Mountain OB GYN and the hospital-owned practice Harris Women’s Care. Harris then acquired Smoky Mountain OB GYN and brought all their providers under the Harris umbrella. 

Now that Duke LifePoint’s acquisition of Harris is complete and the Sylva hospital is in a better position, Mission’s presence isn’t as critical. 

Harris was already in the process of a $5.5 million renovation to its labor and delivery unit — New Generations Birthing Center — when Mission announced last month the closure of its labor and delivery unit in Franklin. Harris saw it as an opportunity to reach out to female patients in Macon County since many of them will now being looking to drive to Sylva to have their babies. 

Lucretia Stargell, vice president of business and service line development for Harris, said the hospital has plans to expand services this summer by offering a full-time pediatrics practice in Franklin. The expansion will mean that Harris will have pediatric care in Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. 

Harris Pediatric Care in Sylva currently has three pediatricians on staff and is in the process of recruiting a fourth to begin this summer. Stargell said Harris is still unsure how many employees will be working at the practice in Franklin.

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