HUNTERSVILLE – In an effort to keep pace with the growth of the region it serves, Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center opened its new, four-story tower June 3.

Since opening in 2004, the hospital has nearly tripled its number of beds to address the sharp rise in patients. During the last year, as construction on the addition progressed, at times patients were placed in “non-traditional” spaces, President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Riley said.

“We can put them in a patient room now,” Riley said, noting patients were staying in the emergency room or observational unit longer than necessary. “The care is the same, but when you’re sick, you want to stay in a nice place.”

The $50 million, 60,000-square-foot expansion to the Gilead Road campus adds 44 beds, bringing the total number of patient beds to 139, including two in the intensive care unit as well as two more in the natal intensive care unit – where Novant provides Level III care for babies born at less than 32 weeks’ gestation.

Riley, who joined the hospital in 2015, called enhancing the NICU “a feast-or-famine kind of thing” as comfort and aesthetics were factors in the expansion, which doubled the size of the NICU area. In 2018, 1,734 babies were born at Huntersville Medical Center, compared to 610 in the first year of operation.

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As part of the Huntersville Medical Center expansion, spaces have been added to make both patients and their visitors more comfortable.

“When you need it, you need it, so you have to have the ability to take care of the babies,” he said. “That’s been a big plus especially in the space that we moved to. It was state of the art before, but now it’s state of the art and more aesthetically pleasing in there.”

Novant added space to put recliners or other chairs so family members can have a more comfortable experience. And there is now a waiting room specific for parents visiting their newborns.

“Sometimes what happens with these babies, they’re here, and the mom’s in the hospital after you have a baby for two-to-three days and they go home,” Riley said. “The babies can be here for days and weeks.”

Other changes

Since the addition broke ground in late 2017, more than 40 Novant doctors working in the region’s Lakeside practices have departed to form private practices via Holston Medical Group.

Despite the exodus, Riley said there remains a partnership between the two health care providers, as patients using one could receive care from the other.

“They’re great physicians, they do a great job with their patients,” Riley said. “Whether they sent patients to the hospital, they sent patients to the Novant health specialists … whether we can help them provide care for their patients, we are 100 percent on board with that. We continue to have a good relationship

“What we’re doing now is working out the communication. Some of it is making sure we have a tight communication loop with them now that they’re not officially part of the Novant medical group.”

And beyond filling the positions from the former Lakeside doctors, recruiting health care workers, including primary-care physicians, is an organizational focus. There were 37 full-time-equivalent positions filled for the addition, with more expected within six months to a year.

“The average age of the average nurse is 47,” Riley said. “For the average nurse to be that old, as the population retires, the nurses are retiring. You’ve got people getting sick, sicker and sicker, and health care providers are getting older and retiring. The work force is retiring while the people who need that work force are needing health care. It continues to be an issue throughout the entire country.”

And that issue has another solution with legs locally. Novant is working on a partnership with the Town of Huntersville, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Central Piedmont Community College to give students great opportunities to pursue careers in health care.

“For health care in Huntersville and Lake Norman area, they’re going to need that work force,” said Huntersville Commissioner Melinda Bales, who has been an active supporter of programs offering career training opportunities at local schools for years. “By partnering with the community college, health care and high schools, it makes more sense for when we get them the certifications at the high school level, it gives them an advantage over others in that industry.”

Adding 250 parking spaces was part of the Novant expansion, which allowed the hospital’s farmers’ market to return. It is held on Tuesdays in a lot in the property’s northwest corner.

“It used to be that it’s the hospital, and everything was dispersed, and not of great concern of the hospital,” Riley said. “Now we’re trying to keep them out of the hospital to start with, and once they’re discharged, making sure they get the food, good health, the transportation, all the different things they need to start healthy.”

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