High Country Association of REALTORS News

NEIGHBORS: High Country home to a strong medical group

Watauga and Avery counties are home to three outstanding hospitals, Watauga Medical Center in Boone, Blowing Rock Hospital and Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville. At one time, all three operated separately. Then in 2004 a slow merger of all three began.

Appalachian Regional Heathcare System logoWatauga Medical Center first combined with Cannon Memorial Hospital to form Appalachian Regional Heathcare System. Then Blowing Rock Hospital joined the group in 2007. Together they provide a wide array of medical and health series for the area.

Recently The Capital Issue, a quarterly newspaper, did a feature on ARHS with regard to its financial standing.

Before Watauga Medical Center merged with two other hospitals to form the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, the 117-bed rural North Carolina facility had historically maintained a strong 5 percent operating margin and a comfortable amount of cash on hand.

But soon after, the system ended a year $10 million in the red with a bank’s noose tight around its neck and the collapsing credit markets pulling it tighter. ...

The new system went from losing $10 million in operations one year, to losing $500,000 from operations the next, to earning about $7 million — an $18 million turnaround in two years on a $140 million system-wide budget, May said.

The story details how ARHS used new information technology to reduce costs, as well as receiving sole community provider status to help with revenues. The unit is stronger today, and may become a model for other hospitals facing financial problems.

Watauga, Blowing Rock and Cannon merged together to create an entirely new system and then worked together to get the new obligated group on strong financial footing. Nationwide, many other hospitals find themselves seeking ways to create formal affiliations with other facilities to improve operations and care delivery. A July 2011 report by Irving Levin Associates suggested 2011 might be a record year for health care mergers and acquisitions.

The report indicates the High Country might be on the cutting edge of health care consolidation. Another great reason to call it home.