Losing Asheboro’s hospital, with 1,100 employees and a $55 million annual payroll, is an unthinkable prospect for Darrell Frye, the chairman of the Randolph County Commission. “We’re a county of 146,000 people, including 26,000 in Asheboro, and the hospital is a destination for thousands of emergency room calls for county-owned ambulances,” says Frye, a commissioner for 38 years. “If there’s not a hospital, that patient has to go to High Point or Greensboro, and someone in critical condition might not make it.”
But the possibility was made evident when Greensboro-based Cone Health ended talks to potentially become a successor organization to take over Randolph Health. It was a tough blow for the Asheboro hospital, which filed for bankruptcy protection in March after years of financial struggles. It is seeking a $20 million state loan to help cover expected operating losses over the next three years under a rural hospital support program passed by state lawmakers.
Cone Health “simply cannot extend itself to take on a project with this level of risk at this time,” the system noted in a press release. It cited “several significant operational and clinical challenges” that are worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In mid-April, Randolph Health received $1.5 million in federal virus-related aid, which is aimed at covering reduced revenues as nonessential medical services were postponed. While the money will help, CEO Angela Orth told The Asheboro Courier-Tribune “it does not provide a long-term solution to ensure local access to care.”
Efforts continue to find a partner, which is required for the state loan. “We’re not giving up and we’re not quitting,” Frye says. “We’ll keep looking for a solution.”