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Originally published: 2013-10-02 11:37:42
Last modified: 2013-10-02 11:38:27

NCDOT secretary meets with ARHS leaders

by Anna Oakes

North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata on Monday heard from Appalachian Regional Healthcare System leaders about plans for the Chestnut Ridge at Blowing Rock project.

Tata's trip to Boone -- part of the secretary's regular visits to project sites across all 14 transportation divisions in the state -- also included meetings with the High Country Council of Governments and employees at the Watauga County NCDOT maintenance facility.

Chestnut Ridge at Blowing Rock is planned to be a 112-bed post-acute care facility that will replace the Blowing Rock Hospital and provide rehabilitative services, long-term nursing care, Alzheimer's support and palliative care. ARHS leaders said the $20 million facility will improve operational efficiency as well as complement and expand ARHS' existing continuum of services.

"You have to have the patient in the right place at the right time," said Herman Godwin, ARHS chief medical officer.

Rob Hudspeth, ARHS senior vice president for advancement, said the project represents an economic development opportunity for the High Country. Chestnut Ridge will provide more than 100 jobs, he said, and even more if a retirement community opens at the site. The extension of water and sewer lines to the facility could also facilitate the construction of other businesses nearby, including restaurants, retail and a grocery store, he said.

ARHS leaders thanked Tata for the state's role in helping to secure a $2.58 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to build the road for the facility, which will be located across from Edmisten Road off of U.S. 321 in Blowing Rock.

"The real opportunity is for future growth," Hudspeth said.

The project continues to seek support for water and sewer infrastructure, however, with Hudspeth noting there have been delays in securing needed funding.

The state government still has not announced the release of a $585,495 grant previously awarded to the town of Blowing Rock for the project by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. The state ceased funding to the center in July after a state audit revealed several areas of concern and began evaluating and distributing the Rural Center's pending grants.

ARHS system leaders said in late August they had received notice that the project was in "good standing." On Monday, Tata said he would mention the grant to Gov. Pat McCrory this week.

Tata said that connecting people to centers for jobs, health care and tourism is central to the governor's vision for transportation.

"We'll do everything we can to enhance it and support it and help it grow," Tata said about the project.