It was a once-in-a-career type of deal. CaroMont Health, a regional health system in North Carolina, was growing and needed to find land for a second hospital. Jennifer Blythe, corporate counsel for legal affairs, knew she had the opportunity to impact her community by improving access to high-quality care. When CaroMont’s leaders identified Belmont Abbey College as a strong partner with shared values, Blythe stepped in and helped to negotiate a fifty-year ground lease for the future location of CaroMont Regional Medical Center-Belmont.
The signed long-term lease will help secure Gaston County’s future, and Blythe is proud of the work she contributed to finding a solution. “This is a landmark deal that CaroMont and our patients will rely on for the next five decades and it gives us a foundation we can build on,” she explains.
Construction will begin right away, and the facility will house medical office buildings, physician offices, operating rooms, sixty-six inpatient beds, surgical capabilities, labor and delivery, and an emergency department. The new hospital is scheduled to open in 2023.
As it operates in a Certificate of Need state, CaroMont required plan approval from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which it received in March 2020. The work of Blythe and the legal and operations team in negotiating the land lease set other critical developments in motion. Her colleagues at the flagship hospital are now able to expand critical care through construction of a new patient tower that will make service delivery more efficient and solidify the center as the region’s central hub for advanced care.
Each floor in the four-story expansion will house twenty-six patient rooms and state-of-the-art nursing stations built for enhanced collaboration. The 146,000-square-foot tower is part of a $350 million total investment in system projects and improvements necessitated by growth of an aging population.
CaroMont now experiences about 250,000 patient encounters per year. Treating those patients takes contributions from each of the system’s 4,300 employees, and Blythe is happy to play an important role by leveraging her legal expertise.
Using her skills in the service of others has been a lifelong personal and professional goal for Blythe. A North Carolina transplant from Indiana, as a child she wound through the court system as a ward of the state. As she and her sisters struggled to find an advocate, a seed was planted, and she later nurtured a growing interest in the law. That interest took Blythe to University of South Carolina School of Law, where she assisted a health law professor and completed an internship at a large regional firm with a strong healthcare practice.
The experiences, coupled with the complicated nature of healthcare, helped Blythe realize she could use her passion for advocacy to make a difference. “Patients have to navigate a maze to receive good care, and then they find a new maze when it comes time to pay for that care,” Blythe says. “I saw the opportunity to use a legal degree to be part of the solution.”
Blythe has grown alongside CaroMont over the last eight years. She’s part of a small-but-mighty team of three lawyers who take calls from nursing stations and solve problems for clinicians. On any given day, she might be negotiating a major real estate deal, navigating records issues, dealing with employment matters, or advising operations departments about patient privacy.
Now, she’s helping leaders, executives, and administrators navigate skills shortages as they prepare to staff a growing independent health system. In today’s challenging environment, that can require some delicate behind-the-scenes legal work.
When CaroMont wasn’t receiving enough clinicians for its hospital and other care settings, Blythe had to approach their exclusive staffing vendor and negotiate to open the contract to other third-party providers so the system could continue to treat patients instead of closing beds or diverting them to other hospitals.
The strategy works because Blythe has spent the time to make true partners out of CaroMont’s vendors. “Transparency is key in all business relationships,” she says. “If we’re in a bind, I explain the truth lawyer-to-lawyer and ask them to help me find a creative way to get what we need.”
CaroMont is an independent system battling a nursing shortage, navigating COVID-19, and experiencing rapid growth. It’s dedicated employees like Blythe working together that make it all possible. But she prefers to give the credit to her colleagues who are on the front lines of care each and every day.
“Moving this health system forward is a team effort, but there are people here who sacrifice a lot to improve and save lives each and every day,” she says. “They are the real heroes whose work I support.”
Congratulations to Jennifer Blythe and CaroMont Health for their well-deserved recognition in American Healthcare Leader! Parker Poe’s Health Care Industry Team is proud of the long-standing relationship it has cultivated with CaroMont Health. We look forward to working closely with Jennifer and the CaroMont Team in the years to come.