Lee County takes another big step in reopening hospital

LEE COUNTY, VA (WJHL) –An update tonight to the ongoing, and at times tumultuous journey toward Lee County, Virginia reopening it’s only hospital.

Wellmont Health System closed Lee Regional Medical Center in October 2013, pointing to federal reimbursement cuts and low community use among the reasons. Ever since, the Southwest Virginia community has rallied to reopen its doors.

“Our focus has been on purchasing the building. But once we have the building, we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re saying ok, what next?” Tom Clarke told the rest of the Lee County Hospital Authority (LCHA) Tuesday night.

The LCHA shares what is next with News Channel 11’s Kylie McGivern, and where negotiations with Wellmont stand now.

The Authority met for more than an hour and a half in executive session before publicly announcing this:

“We have accepted Wellmont’s proposal for the price. The Authority will make arrangements to pay cash at closing. Closing will occur as quickly as possible.”

It’s the announcement much of the region has waited for. But the deal isn’t done just yet.

“We believe we have agreed upon a price that will be subject to Wellmont’s acceptance.”

Specifics on the deal could be released as early as next week.

“Things are moving faster, and we’re getting much more information on what is happening,” Sister Beth Davies told News Channel 11.

Davies lives in Lee County, and has followed the Authority’s lengthy, but steady progress toward a reopening in the wake of what she calls a very abrupt shut down.

“They just left, and it happened very, very quickly. And that was the most painful,” Davies said. “I think it’s very important that we have at least urgent care in this county as quickly as possible.”

The LCHA previously said it anticipated opening an urgent care facility April 1st, but News Channel 11 learned at Tuesday’s meeting, those target dates have since been pushed back.

“It that will probably happen May 1st, June 1st at the latest,” Clarke said. “We are still on target to open the hospital this year. But we had originally hoped for July 1st,  but that may be three or four months later now that the delay has happened on the building purchase. ”

Clarke says the Authority continues to meet the requirements to be designated as a critical access hospital (CAH), and is now exploring several grant opportunities. The LCHA met with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, plans to apply for a $500,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant, a $750,000 Community Development block grant, and is exploring funding opportunities through the Tobacco Commission. The LCHA says it also continues to work on building information about foundations that have an interest specifically in Southwest Virginia for further funding opportunities.

The grant money, along with a rural development loan from the USDA and equipment leasing, is designed to raise $26 million for hospital operations.

“We are actually establishing operating cash reserves, working capital, of almost $18 million out of that $26 million,” Clarke explained at the meeting.

The Authority hopes it will take possession of the hospital building as soon as the first week of April.

As for Wellmont’s stance, the health system told News Channel 11 in a statement Tuesday night:

“Wellmont Health System has continued to work collaboratively with the Lee County Hospital Authority to discuss the future of the former Lee Regional Medical Center. These transactions are complex and take awhile to complete, but we and the hospital authority have continually had productive discussions. We look forward to these ongoing conversations until we reach a successful conclusion of the matter. Wellmont and the hospital authority are making progress and are optimistic a favorable resolution will soon be reached.”

The LCHA says it’s hopeful details of the agreement will be made public at it’s next meeting, scheduled for March 17th at PM at the Pennington Gap Community Center.

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