Community mourns loss of its hospital

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 18, 2001

News of closure at Lawrence County’s only hospital evoked everything from heartfelt sadness and disbelief to tears and frustration from the community.

Thursday, January 18, 2001

News of closure at Lawrence County’s only hospital evoked everything from heartfelt sadness and disbelief to tears and frustration from the community.

"Everybody kept saying ‘What if, what if …,’" said Carolyn Benzinger, an admissions employee at RVHS.

"I kept saying something has to work out because Lawrence County needs this hospital," Mrs. Benzinger said. "We could not believe it was happening. It’s disheartening."

Many employees were shocked, crying and wondering what they would do next, she said.

"I don’t know at my age if I can get another job I draw Social Security from my (late) husband but that doesn’t pay all the bills."

Local family practitioner Dr. Kurt Hoffman announced Wednesday he would meet patient needs at King’s Daughters in Ashland, Ky., but said he was saddened by the decision.

Like many, he said he kept hoping against hope the hospital would survive.

"Ten years ago about this time, I was making the decision to uproot my family from New Jersey and the reason was this hospital, so it’s like losing a friend," Dr. Hoffman said.

River Valley is a great place to work, with friendly, helpful, professional employees who will be missed if the hospital never reopens, he said.

"The hospitals across the river are fine institutions but they’re big. You lose a certain level of comfort."

Still, Dr. Hoffman hasn’t lost sight of hope because, occasionally, a crisis makes things come to pass.

"Maybe if we get a White Knight out of this God bless him."

For Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary, the closure seems twice as rough.

"There’s been so much talk about closing that it didn’t really come as a shock, but it’s another one of those deals where we see another major employer shut down here in Ironton," Cleary said. "It’s a tragedy for everybody, especially for families losing jobs."

Many already have gone through this once with Ironton Iron and Cabletron, he said.

Then, there’s the budget problem faced by the city, the mayor added.

"As far as our tax base, we were just getting close to where we felt like we had a doable budget," Cleary said. "Now with this announcement we will have to look at figures again and see what we’re going have to do."

Additional layoffs, more cuts to services, a short-term tax increase to balance the budget – it might all have to be discussed, he said.

Others, like former employee Peggy brown, had angrier opinions about the impending shutdown.

Mrs. Brown said she was fired in 1998, blaming it on her efforts to help unionize hospital workers.

"I think if they’d voted the union in, the reputation of the hospital would’ve been better, doctors would have stayed and I don’t think they would’ve had any money problems like this now," she said.

Dr. John Ross, interim CEO at RVHS, said he spent most of Wednesday walking around, notifying and talking to employees.

"It’s very sad; I enjoy working here," the 17-year hospital veteran said.

The mood among employees is sad because, as he feels too, the staff has given excellent care to the community over many years, Dr. Ross said.

Most have many years in at the hospital, he said.

"They do consider everyone as part of their family."