CULLOWHEE – The N.C. General Assembly has approved partial funding for a collaborative effort by Western Carolina University, the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the Mountain Area Health Education Center to promote wellness and healthy lifestyles among all population groups – especially the growing number of elderly.

The regional initiative, called the North Carolina Center for Health and Aging, was part of a $468 million statewide capital improvements plan adopted July 19 by state lawmakers as part of 2004-05 budget negotiations.

Western and MAHEC will share $10 million to begin planning and design of their portions of the project.

Western is planning a $34.8 million building to house a School of Health and Gerontological Sciences facility in Cullowhee, replacing a facility built in 1924. The 145,200 square-foot structure will enable the university to expand its accredited health care degree programs in nursing, clinical laboratory sciences, health information management, emergency medical care, environmental health, nutrition and dietetics, athletics training, communications disorders, therapeutic recreation, physical therapy, health services management, and gerontology. The facility also will provide research space for interdisciplinary adaptive device development and for human movement science laboratories.

MAHEC will begin planning the North Carolina Center for Health Leadership, a new $38 million building in Asheville that will include laboratory and meeting space for applied health research projects that focus on developing “best practice” approaches to problems affecting North Carolinians . It also would include a public health library, and offices, classrooms and laboratory space for expanded educational opportunities for health care providers and the public.

UNCA will receive $35 million over the next two years for its Center for Health and Wellness Promotion, an 111,000 square-foot building that will house classrooms, laboratories and research space for students working on degrees in health promotion. The emphasis at UNCA will be on c ommunity-based undergraduate research, internships and community service, with a special focus on workplace wellness, childhood obesity and health care for older adults.

Combining the Western, MAHEC and UNCA projects to create a regional initiative, the N.C. Center for Health and Aging is expected to become a national model for the expansion of health education and applied research in areas of special interest for aging and near-aging people, their families and caregivers. The center is expected to have a significant economic impact on Western North Carolina by promoting new technologies and services that address mobility, communication and other needs of senior citizens.

Legislators approved funding for health and education projects at 12 of the 16 University of North Carolina system campuses. Some of the projects, including those at Western and MAHEC, require approval of the UNC Board of Governors before work can begin.

The joint Western-UNCA-MAHEC project is supported by the Western North Carolina Health Network, composed of 16 WNC hospitals and 16 affiliate members including municipal and county health departments.

“The Western North Carolina Health Network enthusiastically supports the development of Western Carolina 's health and gerontological sciences building and the projects at UNCA and MAHEC,” said Mark Leonard, WNCHN chairman and president of WestCare Health System. “The demand for health professionals is expanding, and construction of the facilities will enable our hospitals to have access to critically needed nursing and allied health professionals to meet the needs of our evolving regional and national demographics.”

Hospitals supporting the plan are Angel Medical Center, Franklin; Cherokee Indian Hospital, Cherokee; Community CarePartners, Asheville; Harris Regional Hospital, Sylva; Haywood Regional Medical Center, Clyde; Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, Highlands; Margaret R. Pardee Hospital, Hendersonville; Mission Hospitals, Asheville; Murphy Medical Center, Murphy; Park Ridge Hospital, Fletcher; Rutherford Hospital, Rutherfordton; Spruce Pine Community Hospital, Spruce Pine; St. Luke's Hospital, Columbus; Swain County Hospital, Bryson City; The McDowell Hospital, Marion; and Transylvania Community Hospital, Brevard.

Maintained by the WCU Office of Public Relations
Last modified: Monday, July 26, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Western Carolina University