A multi-party effort with the City of Hendersonville is generating important, regional benefits in health — and creating a powerful growth formula for the future.
Today, Hendersonville in western North Carolina is part of a region popular with retirees, with a quarter of the county’s headcount in the 65-plus age bracket. But healthcare provision hasn’t always kept up, with a lack of pharmacists and physician assistants just a part of the demand. It’s the troubling math of an aging population and the need for support that so many areas are experiencing. But it’s changing around Hendersonville thanks to work that could pay off well beyond the healthcare picture alone.
The idea: provide local students with accessible healthcare education and a reason to stay in the area to energize healthcare offerings that are much more convenient for residents in need.
In 2011, Wingate University established a satellite campus in Hendersonville for physician assistant and pharmacy programs, housed in two separate commercial office spaces downtown. Three years later, Wingate notified the City and County that it had outgrown its locations and was looking for a more permanent home for both programs. The Hendersonville City Council made it a priority to keep the campus in the downtown area, and a partnership was born.
The City purchased an acre of property adjacent to UNC Health Care’s Pardee Hospital in town, handled the necessary environmental assessments and razed a structure already on the site to make way for what would be a new, 100,000-square-foot facility. The City also provided the public infrastructure improvements needed to support it. Together, the City and the hospital acquired two additional properties to facilitate a street-widening and additional parking. Partner Henderson County handled the building’s financing and construction.
The Health Sciences Center, as it’s called, hit completion in fall 2016 and is bustling with collaboration. Wingate University and its Hendersonville campus occupy the first floor on a longterm lease for existing programs with hope for expansions over time. Blue Ridge Community College relocated all of its healthcare programs to the second floor (receiving also a $1.08 million grant for lab equipment from Golden LEAF) and provides general maintenance and security for the facility. Pardee Hospital, which provided a portion of the property and all of the parking facilities for the Health Sciences Center, operates a Cancer Center where students can sharpen their skills.
By locating close to Pardee Hospital, students have easy access to clinical training and residency programs in the hospital and surrounding medical practices. Pardee Cancer Center provides the same cancer treatment as one would receive at UNC Health Care’s main campus in Chapel Hill. This allows area residents to get the best care without having to traveling four hours to Chapel Hill.
Having a university campus in Hendersonville’s downtown makes for great local business support, and is a valuable economic development tool. And the developments aren’t done. Conversations have started with a local housing non-profit to provide affordable student housing in the immediate vicinity of the Health Sciences Center. The dream is for the Health Sciences Center to grow into a Health Sciences Campus.
The initiative and its possibilities have fed great media coverage, with an emphasis on the advantage in partnerships.
“For any large endeavor to be successful, strong partnerships are needed,” the Science Center’s Dr. Kurt Wargo told the Carolina Public Press. “Without even one of these key partners, this project would have been exceedingly difficult for us.”