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Casinos got the chop in the North Carolina budget passed last week, but Medicaid expansion stayed in as promised. Along with its launch in December comes a major investment in healthcare across the state, with massive implications for the Triangle. 

Included in the new state budget was a $320 million initial investment for the N.C. Children’s Hospital, what UNC Health leaders and state lawmakers hope will become a world-class, nationally-renowned children’s hospital based somewhere in the Triangle.

“The idea is that this would be a freestanding flagship hospital basically the first of its kind in North Carolina,” says Alan Wolf, the director of news and media relations for UNC Health. “North Carolina needs a children’s hospital that can be the pride of the state. We want to be able to treat the next generations of children right here in North Carolina and not have to have them go out of state to get the best care.”

The Triangle already has several children’s hospital options including Duke University’s nationally ranked, 190-bed Children’s Health and Hospital Center in Durham, UNC Health Care’s 150-bed Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, and WakeMed’s 45-bed Children’s Hospital in Raleigh. Just last fall, however, children’s hospitals in the Triangle saw a shortage of bed availability during a respiratory illness surge. And Raleigh and Durham ranked as the fourth-fastest growing cities in the United States last year, according to a report from the Kenan Institute. 

In addition to medical care, the new children’s hospital will provide behavioral health services and include a child and adolescent psychiatric hospital. Following the outbreak of the pandemic, especially, adolescent behavioral and mental health has become an increasing point of concern. (This facility is unrelated to another 54-bed adolescent center that UNC Health plans to open later this year in Butner.)

“These investments will transform the care of children across the state, ensure a healthier future for North Carolina’s children and shape the future of behavioral healthcare for all children by providing the highest level of comprehensive care and improving health outcomes for future generations,” said Stephanie Duggins Davis, the chief physician at UNC Children’s, in a Tuesday press release.

As the hospital is in its early planning stages, concrete details such as site location and project financing are uncertain at this time 

“We know that we want it in the Triangle, a visible area that’s gonna be close to the big population centers,” Wolf says. “Presumably the airport as well, so folks can fly in from across the state if they need to.”

As to financing, Wolf says that the bulk of the remaining funding for the estimated $2 billion project will come from philanthropic fundraising, and UNC Health’s capital reserves. Officials say the new hospital will create thousands of new local jobs. Next steps will include fundraising, identifying a site for the hospital, and designing the new hospital’s facilities. 

To UNC Health leaders, the new hospital symbolizes a deeper investment in healthcare in North Carolina.

“This is a monumental partnership for our state’s healthcare future,” said Dr. Wesley Burks, CEO of UNC Health and dean of the UNC School of Medicine in the UNC Health press statement. “As the state of North Carolina’s healthcare system, our ability to fulfill our mission is strengthened through the investments in this year’s budget.”

Wolf adds that UNC Health is “incredibly appreciative of state leaders for their recognition that healthcare in the state has some areas that can improve.”

“They’re looking ahead to the next 10 or 20 years,” Wolf says. “If we’re going to continue to see the population grow in North Carolina the way it is, the number of children that are being treated in our hospitals and in our emergency departments, we’re going to need additional facilities to help them be cared for.”

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