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REGIONALREPORT Eastern

Not giving up Hoke

North Carolina’s fastest-growing county is poised to get its first hospital — make that two — now that Fayetteville-based Cape Fear Valley Health System and Pinehurst-based FirstHealth of the Carolinas Inc. have agreed to a truce. Their clash began in 2010, when the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services gave both permission to build hospitals near Raeford in Hoke County. Both, of course, filed legal appeals challenging the need for the other.

Friction boiled over last year when FirstHealth — which runs three hospitals with 582 beds — offered to drop its appeal, but its rival didn’t. County commissioners passed a resolution condemning Cape Fear Valley — which runs five hospitals with 765 beds — for holding up the process, and the system changed its mind in April. “I think for us and for FirstHealth, we both wanted to get on with building our facilities,” Cape Fear Valley CEO Mike Nagowski says. He wouldn’t acknowledge competition between the two, but First Health director of communication Gretchen Kelly says, “We welcome competition for the benefit of the health system and our patients.”

Both want to benefit from skyrocketing growth in the eastern part of Hoke, where they will build their hospitals about two miles apart along U.S. 401. The county’s population jumped nearly 5% between 2010 and 2011 to more than 49,000, the Census estimates. That’s the fastest growth rate in the state and eighth-fastest in the U.S. Most of it is fueled by Army expansion at Fort Bragg. The hospitals are expected to create hundreds of jobs, not including pharmacies and labs that might serve them. Construction has begun on FirstHealth’s project and should start on Cape Fear Valley’s this summer.

Cape Fear Valley’s hospital will be much larger, at least initially, but FirstHealth plans to apply for 28 more beds the state says is needed in Hoke and Cumberland counties. That could set off another skirmish. Those beds belong in Cumberland, Nagowski says, and his system will apply to add them in Fayetteville. “Our emergency-room volumes have grown by 35% over three or four years. We are full and at maximum capacity most days,” he says of Cape Fear Medical Center, the system’s flagship hospital in Fayetteville.

 

 

 Briefs

PIKEVILLE — Chicago-based metal distributor and processor Joseph T. Ryerson & Son will expand its fabrication plant, investing $3 million and increasing its workforce from 22 to 66. Average annual wage will be $33,540, higher than Wayne County’s average of $29,848.

WASHINGTON Hampton Art bought Dallas-based KI Memories, a maker of scrapbook and paper-crafting supplies, for an undisclosed amount and consolidated its operations here. Hampton Art is a subsidiary of National Spinning Co., which also distributes supplies under the Studio G and Ditto brands.

WILSON — Merck will invest $15 million to expand and renovate its packaging plant. The Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based pharmaceutical giant, which employs about 400 workers here, plans to build new cold-storage units for its vaccines.

WILMINGTON — The City Council will pay Topeka, Kan.-based National Sport Services $178,650 to study building a minor-league ballpark here. The firm is expected to recommend building sites and ways of financing as local leaders negotiate to get an Atlanta Braves’ affiliate.

BALD HEAD ISLAND — The Bald Head Island Conservancy opened a 5,000-square-foot research and education center here to study barrier islands. The $2.4 million building includes a lab, touch tank and public library.