Boomtown: As population in Triangle grows, so does need for medical facilities

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Monday, October 2, 2023
As population in Triangle grows, so does need for medical facilities
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Growing populations and the closure of rural health care facilities means more and more people are seeking medical care in the Triangle.

HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. (WTVD) -- The fast-growing, and aging, population across the Triangle continues to draw the attention of health system leaders.

"We've literally doubled what we expected on E.R. visits, inpatient visits, surgeries -- everything ramped up way faster than we ever anticipated," said UNC Rex Holly Springs Chief Operating Officer Roy Tempke. UNC Rex Holly Springs will mark its two-year anniversary in November 2023.

Currently, the location has 50 inpatient beds, with Tempke hoping to begin construction within the year to add an additional 24 beds.

"We should be on track to birth 700 babies this year," said Tempke.


It's a service that will take on even greater importance after last week's news that Betsy Johnson Hospital in Harnett County is ending its labor and delivery services. According to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services and Research, there have been 199 rural hospital closures and conversions nationwide since 2005; since 2007, there have been 10 such instances in North Carolina.

"There's no question that when rural health care loses its resources, patients have to drive to a greater distance and to areas like the Triangle to access care. And this is a unique time in that rural health care is struggling, but we're also working hard just to keep up with the population we have. I think it really puts patients at risk when rural health care doesn't have the support they need. Patients will always drive to get highly specialized care, very complex care. That's always been the case and it will be going forward. But we really need to do everything we can to support patients having access to care close to their homes," said Dr. Barbara Griffith, President of Duke Raleigh Hospital.

Duke Raleigh is licensed for 204 beds, though 70% of its services are outpatient.

"It's also about innovation in health care and how we figure out how to create access for patients so that they don't have to leave their homes to communicate with their provider. Things like telehealth which really became much more prominent and mainstream during the pandemic, those changes are here to stay," said Griffith.

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Both health systems continue to track population metrics in determining future locations, as they work to ensure there are enough staff on-site to continue providing care.

"Once we opened, it still was difficult for us to hire. And even today I just checked, we have about 12 positions that are filled by traveling nurses or technicians," said Tempke.

"The most important thing that we can do is recruit and hire the people that we need to provide that care. We've recruited over 300 providers in the past few years, another 250 in the next two years is the plan. If you look at nursing recruitment alone, over 2,000 nurses have been recruited to Duke in the past year," Griffith explained.

Tempke and Griffith acknowledge that staffing shortages were exacerbated during the pandemic, with many providers opting to leave the profession.

"We're not training enough nurses to be able to care for as many patients as we will have in the future. And so things like partnering with local schools to develop new nursing programs or partnering with community colleges to support interest in health care (is important)," Griffith explained.

It's also highlighted the need for existing facilities to broaden its offerings.

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More than 900 homes sold for over $1 million in the Triangle in 2023 to date, according to John Finan of Exeter Building Company.

"We do have space on the current property to build at some point we'd like to build another medical office, building a parking deck. In maybe 10 years, build another patient tower here on this site. Currently we're looking to go ahead and build a linear accelerator here for cancer treatment, as well as begin chemotherapy treatment in our current medical office building," said Tempke, a service it aims to start within the year.

This is all happening as Raleigh's population is aging; according to city officials, residents 65 and older accounted for 8% of the population in 2010, while a recent survey found the figure is now over 12%.

"We also happen to own a nursing home that's just down the street in Apex. We send a lot of patients there for rehabilitation after after being in the acute care hospital," Tempke noted.

"We anticipate that there will be a million more doctor's visits needed in this area within five years than there are today. And over 30,000 more procedures will go on an annual basis," said Griffith.

As the growth shows no signs of slowing down, the urgency to build more facilities to keep up only grows.

"An important part of health care in the Triangle is that many of us collaborate with each other. And so if you're familiar with the groundbreaking for (The Peak Rehabilitation Hospital), occurred last week in Apex, and that's a joint venture of Duke Health, Wake Med and Lifepoint Health," said Griffith.