Two years after Macon County residents pleaded with the board of commissioners to bring a dialysis facility to the community, the fruit of their labor was finally realized Thursday afternoon.
Citizens, elected officials, and medical professionals packed the new DaVita Dialysis Center in the Westgate Plaza from wall to wall to welcome the new and much needed facility to Franklin.
Before the new center was opened in Franklin, patients residing in Macon County needing dialysis treatment would have to travel over Cowee Mountain to Sylva to the closest facility. In the winter months, patients told of stories of wrecked vehicles and missed appointments due to having to battle the inclement weather on the mountain.
The new state-of-the-art facility can hold its own against any of its kind in North Carolina, said several patients who gave testimonies of their visits to other facilities. To open the ceremony, Gloria Thun, a daughter of dialysis patient Gladys Wright who passed away in 2011, spoke of her mother's commitment and drive to see such a facility open in Franklin to make it easier to get the life saving treatments.
“She often got sick on the way home after being on dialysis for so long,” said Thun of her mother. “Often we would witness other dialysis patients from Franklin pulled over on the side of the road ?they were sick ? mother felt so bad for them. Mother worried so much about patients that had to drive themselves. This is something I couldn’t believe. Dialysis patients had to drive themselves to Sylva for hours and hours of treatment and then drive themselves home.
Mother couldn't believe this because of the way she felt, she didn't see how they could do it.”
Thun spoke about the importance of having a facility close enough to allow patients more time with their families. “All of us feel that mom could have had more precious time to spend with her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and other family if there was a facility here,” she said. “We feel that we lost precious time with mom because of having to drive so far. We would give anything to have some of that travel time back to spend more time with our mother.”
The journey to bring a dialysis center to Franklin has been a fight, a fight led by county commissioner Ronnie Beale. After learning of the need of such a facility in Macon County, Beale worked tirelessly to make it happen. Each of the speakers Thursday afternoon thanked Beale for his relentless dedication and drive in bringing the dialysis center to Macon County.
“When it comes to getting things done anywhere in the state, Ronnie is the one who will get it done ? especially when it is on the hearts of Macon County people,” said Randy Raby, a dialysis patient.
Raby spoke of his appreciation for the new facility. “This is one of the most wonderful days I have ever known,” said Raby. “This is a service that if you have to use it, it is truly life saving.”
“It's because of people like Randy Raby that this thing first got started,” said Beale. “They said it's just not going to happen, you're too rural, you are too far out, you don't have the patient count. Well, we didn't pay much attention to that.”
John Davis, whose wife, Sue, receives dialysis, helped to get the ball rolling on the center when he went before the board of commissioners pleading for their help. “I brought a package of information before the board of commissioners on what needed to be done to get a facility here in Macon County, and with no funding impact on the county, commissioners approved a resolution to get the ball rolling, and commissioner Ronnie Beale picked up that ball and has been running like a Dallas Cowboy running back ever since,” said Davis. “We are here today because of him.”
Obstacles such as Macon County's remote rural location and varying population in summer and winter made the likelihood of a dialysis center coming to Franklin seem dim when the question first arose in the summer of 2011. In order to be cost effective and assure quality of care, the state, who is responsible for approving or denying operation of such facilities, requires that new dialysis centers have a projected need for at least 10 dialysis stations (or 32 patients). After a back and forth with the state, and the consideration of second home owners during summer months who would benefit from the new facility, Macon County received the approval needed for the facility in September 2011.
The North Carolina State Health Coordinating Council (SHCC) voted to unanimously approve Macon County’s Petition for Adjustment to Need Determination essentially paving the way for a dialysis center to be built in the county.
Beale was first in line to travel to Raleigh to hear the results of a vote from the Facilities Planning Section of the Health and Human Services Department for himself. The Facilities Planning Section approved the county’s petition and sent it to the SHCC for a final vote. Beale was in Raleigh to hear the news in person and reported that the SHCC initially approved five stations for the county. After crunching the numbers, the new dialysis center was approved for up to 10 stations, with seven stations currently available for use.
The state requires that the dialysis center treat non-medicaid patients for the next two weeks. Then state officials will return to the facility to complete a final inspection to allow the center to open its doors to the public at large, just in time for dialysis patients to avoid spending another winter fighting Cowee Mountain to receive the treatments.
Beale said in the future, he would like to see a Macon Transit Vehicle be designated to the dialysis center to ensure that patients have the transportation support needed to receive the treatment.