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County may seek grants to improve RVHS building

County officials want federal grant assistance to improve the vacant River Valley Health System building – a step toward a future use that could involve other area hospitals.

Friday, May 25, 2001

County officials want federal grant assistance to improve the vacant River Valley Health System building – a step toward a future use that could involve other area hospitals.

At Thursday’s county caucus meeting of the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission – the group of regional government entities that prioritizes grant applications – Lawrence County’s members identified repairs needed at the hospital.

The county caucus voted to place the "Lawrence County hospital improvements" project on its list of Appalachian Regional Commission funding requests.

Repairs are needed at the hospital, especially on the boilers, to keep the facility in top shape, said Pat Clonch, executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation and caucus member.

The grant request amount will not be known until mid-June when costs for boiler repairs, surgical suite upgrades and other improvements are finalized, Mrs. Clonch said.

The county can apply for a maximum of $250,000, and has until July 13 to file the official pre-application that will list an amount, said John Hemmings, assistant director of the OVRDC in Waverly.

Caucus member and county commissioner Jason Stephens agreed with the move to identify the hospital facility on the ARC project list. Funding for repairs would be an asset if someone can be found to operate the facility, Stephens said.

"Everybody’s still in very preliminary talks to operate it," he added.

The RVHS facility has been idle since late winter when the board of trustees announced its closure for financial reasons. Questions about its debts and accounts receivable have lingered, but a court-appointed receiver has been dealing with those issues and negotiating offers for the facility’s use.

Former RVHS leaders and the county held a joint meeting this month, but issued no word about the hospital’s rumored reopening. Negotiations look positive, though, commissioners said.

Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, where many county residents and physicians went after RVHS’ closure, has been "working closely with the leadership of the River Valley board, Pat Clonch, Bob Payne, Chuck Cooper and others to work out ways to support the medical needs of the Ironton area," CEO Bob Maher said in a recent letter to Ironton City Council.

Mike Stautberg, vice president of external affairs, said that OLBH is reviewing a variety of ways to meet medical needs in Ironton.

"And, (the RVHS) facility is being looked at, too," Stautberg said.