Bo Sellers – Cape Fear Valley Health System
It’s a part of the world that could use a doctor or two—an area complicated by a growing need for hospital space, housing for faculty and residents and, of course, funding. The good news: the Cape Fear Valley Health System in North Carolina is primed for expansion. Sometime this year, the organization hopes to start construction on a project that will allow it to train 200 new doctors.
Helping achieve this initiative is Bo Sellers, director of design and construction management for CFVHS. His focus is to provide the facilities and space needed to allow these educational partnerships to grow—and to support the ever-increasing flow of patients in need of care.
While many hospitals are building new facilities to replace older ones, Cape Fear Valley doesn’t have that luxury. But Sellers is finding a way to get the job done anyway.
“Planning and seeking problems and then solving them is what I love best,” Sellers says. “Wrestling with contracts might be the least fun to do, but you try to do things thoroughly and fast with patience and compassion.”
Build it and they will come
Founded in 1964, Cape Fear Valley Health is the ninth-largest health system in the state, with 4,800 employees, 500 physicians and around 1,000 beds. The regional health system includes five hospitals—the largest being in Fayetteville—with primary care physician offices servicing the southeastern part of the state.
Launched in 2017, the new physician training program—the fifth of its kind in the state—is being supported through Campbell University. It offers training for residents in nine programs, including a fellows program in cardiology, which will produce the next generation of Doctors of Osteopathy. Educational offerings range from geriatrics and cardiology to OB-GYN, emergency medicine and behavioral health. Administrators are hoping to fill each program’s class.
To support those efforts, Sellers is planning to start construction of a 120,000-square-foot graduate medical education space this year. The project will include building classrooms and faculty offices; simulation labs to train doctors in keyhole procedures like laparoscopy; a food hall; and a 500-seat auditorium. All of the medical outlets will support the clinicians’ hands-on work in the hospital setting, as required by the program.
Hope for housing
But to bring more people into the program means Cape Fear will have to house the residents—somehow. Historically, 40 percent of physicians completing their residencies end up staying in the area. It’s a conundrum for Cape Fear: seeing growth—important for this medically underserved part of the state—and being able to provide inpatient beds and funding to support more services.
“When you start a residency program you establish the program size within three years, so we are currently growing,” Sellers says. “We have a doctor shortage and growing inpatient demand.”
Whenever Sellers undertakes a new imaging project for Cape Fear, you can bet Blake Contracting of Gastonia will be asked for a proposal. Blake Skarpalezos, president of the firm that operates in nine states throughout the southeast as well as Puerto Rico, has enjoyed a five-year relationship working with the healthcare facility. Projects have included prep work and renovation of rooms for installation of high-end capital equipment for imaging, such as X-ray and MRI.
The company was involved with imaging and construction projects in two radiographic locations involving Cape Fear’s Emergency Room, as well as a trauma patient CT scan and radiography room, all in 2019. Up next are MRI and linear accelerator replacement projects. A specialty of the firm, Skarpalezos says, is working efficiently to minimize downtime at a facility so hospitals don’t lose revenue.
“Our goal is to have direct involvement with any healthcare project and to strategically help our clients,” he says. “We appreciate this great partnership and have enjoyed Cape Fear’s communication and great team approach.”
Complications with COVID
But in the world of construction, affordability comes first. As Sellers explains, rural hospitals have pretty tight margins. When the pandemic struck, many patients were leery of entering a hospital setting for fear of getting COVID-19. Postponing all non-essential medical procedures, the system even shut down some of their inpatient bed units.
Of course, fewer hospital visits meant less revenue. This latest project will require up to 18 months of construction time with monthly expenses anticipated in the millions.
“We need money to build this building; it’s an investment for our community. We should be under construction now, but we’re right at the end of the bidding process,” he explains. “It’s hard for people to see the benefit of a new $25 million building when someone’s just furloughed, lost a job or a portion of their income. I’m hoping we can start construction later this summer.”
The greatest catch
Sellers says he’s hopeful Cape Fear can break ground soon and understands the cyclical nature of projects and economies. It was one reason he chose to work in health care: knowing there would always be work planning, designing, renovating and building hospitals—especially in the areas that needed it the most.
That desire to do something to benefit the community brought him to Clemson University, where he earned his master’s in architecture and healthcare facility planning and design in 1987.
Degree in hand, he started his career at architecture and design companies: first Louis P. Batson III Architects and later, FreemanWhite. He then took a job as director of facility and planning for Carolinas HealthCare System, now Atrium Health, for 17 years starting in 1997.
Throughout, he intermittently held roles in agricultural tourism and farming—including a stint at his family’s Allee’Bubba Farms. He returned to health care when he came to Cape Fear in 2016, taking on what he calls comprehensive responsibilities for planning and construction.
“You can be pulled in a hundred directions, especially when it comes to hurricane emergencies, but it’s purposeful work and you do what’s needed,” he says.
Looking ahead, Sellers says Cape Fear will soon begin construction on an 8,500-square-foot psychiatric behavioral addition with up to 16 adolescent beds to support regional families and soldiers’ families in need at nearby Fort Bragg, through a $4 million grant from the state legislature.
While the medical staff handles the healing at Cape Fear Valley, Sellers says his own healing happens on his family farm, and when he contributes to the community with his involvement in the local Project Healing Waters Program by supporting disabled vets with PTSD through fly fishing.
“It’s an alternative path to wellness that doesn’t require four walls,” Sellers says.
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