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County: RVHS announcement soon

Will Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital reopen the vacant RVHS facility?<!–key-highlight–>.

Saturday, June 02, 2001

Will Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital reopen the vacant RVHS facility?

Bellefonte leaders and Lawrence County officials won’t confirm it, but speculation continues to grow that the Russell, Ky., medical center is the "interested party" now negotiating for use of the River Valley building.

On Thursday, county commissioners added fuel to that speculation when they voted to create an advisory board to represent the county commission in the facility’s lease.

Commissioners also hinted that an announcement could come within 10 to 15 days.

"Everything’s coming down to the final steps and we want it right," commission president Paul Herrell said, explaining the commission is looking to advisers to protect the county’s interests.

Bellefonte has confirmed it’s eying the RVHS facility, but has not commented on whether or not it’s negotiating.

"OLBH wants to service the needs of the Ironton community but we are looking at a variety of options," said Mike Stautberg last week. Stautberg is OLBH’s vice president of external affairs.

Stautberg said one of those options involves the RVHS facility.

Bellefonte has a team of experts reviewing that building and other ideas for healthcare services in the Ironton area; and that team will report back to the OLBH board of directors, he said.

However, the team may come up with five to six ideas, Stautberg said.

Stautberg indicated a decision could come soon, but would not give a specific time.

Commissioners said Thursday that the newly-created advisory board will represent the county on any current and future negotiations, as well as offer suggestions to RVHS’s court-appointed receiver who is seeking those negotiations.

Herrell would not elaborate on specifics but said if the negotiations are successful the facility will again be used for medical purposes.

The commission appointed Dr. Burton Payne, Bill Dingus and Wayne White to the advisory board.

Commissioner Jason Stephens called the negotiations for River Valley a complicated process that’s out of commissioners’ hands for now.

Any agreement will go to the judge first, Stephens said.

With the former hospital in receivership, which is similar to a bankruptcy, the entire proceeding is controlled by the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court and interested parties like the federal agency that issued millions of dollars in improvement bonds, which RVHS still owes, he said.

"So the courts have to agree before it gets to us, but we want knowledgeable people to advise us during the process," he added, referring to the advisory board’s creation.

Also fueling community rumor about OLBH’s interest in the River Valley facility is last month’s letter from Bellefonte CEO Bob Maher to Ironton City Council urging the city to support the Ironton-Russell Bridge replacement option D-2 that would link the bridge to U.S. 23 near OLBH.

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," Maher wrote.

County leaders also recently placed the "Lawrence County hospital improvements" project on its list of Appalachian Regional Commission funding requests.