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OLBH closer to taking over RVHS

What was only a hope and a dream a year ago is now very nearly a reality.

Officials with Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital Thursday evening announced the completion of a property transfer agreement between their hospital and the former River Valley Health System. The two sides met yesterday afternoon to discuss the agreement.

"We're very pleased the agreement is complete," OLBH Chief Executive Officer Robert J. Maher said. "This is a major step forward in continuing plans to provide a comprehensive health care solution to meet the needs of Ironton and the surrounding area in light of River Valley's closing more than a year ago."

Earlier this year, OLBH announced plans to open an urgent care facility at the former hospital location.

The urgent care facility will initially operate 12-hours daily. OLBH Vice President for External Affairs Michael Stautberg said the urgent care could be operational within four to six months.

The new facility will initially employ approximately 25 people.

"We have been dedicated to ensuring residents of Ohio can easily receive acute care services they and their families need at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital's main campus," Maher said. "Now residents of Lawrence County will be able to access a wider range of services within the Ironton community. Services and treatment for most illnesses and injuries will be offered at the urgent care facility."

Along with the urgent care facility, the new Ironton campus will also offer expanded diagnostics, such as X-ray and laboratory services.

OLBH already operates the Diagnostics Imaging Center at the Ironton Hills Plaza.

That center employs 30 people and offers MRI, CT scanning, mammography, ultrasound, bone density scanning, diagnostic X-ray and general laboratory services.

Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital is part of the Bon Secours Health System, Inc.. Based in Marriottsville, Maryland, it is a $2.1 billion dollar not-for-profit Catholic health system that owns, manages or joint ventures 24 acute care, nine long term care, eight assisted living and independent living and other facilities, primarily on the east coast.

The old River Valley Health System, formerly known as Lawrence County General Hospital, closed its doors in January, 2001 after sustained financial hardship. The closing cost the county its only hospital and took 450 jobs with it. Some of the former employees were hired at other area hospitals, including OLBH.

Two months later, the Lawrence County Commission, which had taken control of the facility when it closed, transferred the day-to-day operation of River Valley Health System to court-appointed receiver Robert Payne, CPA.

Thursday, commissioners reiterated their pledge to ask Payne and special Judge Everett Burton to give the former employees priority status when bills are paid. Many employees were left owing medical bills because the hospital was self insured. When the facility closed, creditors began billing former employees directly for medical care rendered. Other employees are also owed holiday and sick-leave pay.

Commissioners have long supported the idea that employees should be given a priority status. Commissioner Paul Herrell said yesterday's action makes their support official.

"They need to be considered up front," Herrell said. "It's a shame that hospital closed." Teresa Moore/The Ironton Tribune