Saluda Medical Center closes after 40 years of service

Published 9:51 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2014

by Leah Justice
Saluda Medical Center (SMC), which has been in operation since 1974 to serve indigent and underserved members of Saluda and the surrounding area officially closed its doors June 30 to the community.
The facility was forced to close following critical cuts in grant funding and problems with the new Medicaid system, said SMC Administrator Amy Copeland. The board of directors of the SMC had been monitoring the financial situation over the past several years and had no other option but to close this year.
“Although we were all hopeful that SMC would be able to continue service, it became obvious that the center’s operations were no longer sustainable,” Copeland said. “The sustainability issue has also affected three of our sister organizations.”
Copeland said one other sister organization closed, one was absorbed by a hospital and the third became a federally qualified health center.
“Other primary care centers are looking at the aforementioned affiliations,” Copeland said.
Saluda commissioners announced the center’s closing during its July meeting and said Blue Ridge Health Services is attempting to get a grant to take over SMC but did not know how long the process may take.

SMC history
SMC was founded in 1974 as a result of efforts of Saluda residents to meet community needs. Residents raised funding to build the facilities, obtain medical providers, and provided, then and now, leadership through a citizen-run board of directors.
In November 1975, the center was designated as a rural health center by the state of North Carolina. The N.C. Office of Rural Health and Community Care provided funding for SMC’s sliding scale program to offer affordable medical care to uninsured and underserved residents.
“Although I have been here 11 years, June Taylor, our bookkeeper and former WIC director, has been employed at SMC for 32 years,” Copeland said. “Anyone who visited SMC surely saw the smiling faces of Amy Mills, Lorraine Smith, Crystal Turner and Pat Sandahl, who were all fully committed to continuing service in Saluda. I will speak for myself and my staff agrees that the loss of the center leaves a hole in our hearts, as we all truly felt like part of each patients’ families. We sincerely love and care for our patients as if they were our own family members. I am getting daily comments from patients who are saddened by the closing of the center. The outpouring of gratitude from our patients for the extra special care they received each time they visited SMC is very heartwarming.
“The closing has been emotional to say the least, but the staff and board have satisfaction of a job well done over the past 40 years. We want to say thank you to our community for supporting us, even when times were tough and we sometimes faced a provider shortage. One of the problems we experienced was attracting and retaining quality mid-level providers (NP’s and PA’s) in a very competitive market. We appreciated the patience of our community as we tried to recruit quality providers to our rural practice.”
Copeland is still working at the center on a part-time basis as needed to answer questions and help direct patients to their new primary care providers and to supply medical records as requested.
Contact Copeland at 828-749-4411 to discuss the available times for record transfers or any other assistance or information.

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