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Future of RVHS building debated

What would be the best way to utilize the River Valley Health System building?

Answering that question is the ultimate goal of a committee created by Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital that met for the first time Thursday.

The meeting laid the groundwork for future discussions and provided the panel with a first-hand look inside the former hospital that OLBH purchased last year.

The overall objective is to determine how the building, located at 2228 S. Ninth St., can best be used to benefit the community, the hospital and the entire Tri-State area, said Michael Stautberg, vice president for external affairs for OLBH.

Ironton business owner Dan Bentley is the committee chairman.

He said he is optimistic about the future of this building.

"Everyone's heart is in this," he said. "That is what will make the difference."

The committee toured the entire facility to help the members become familiar with it. At this point, it is too early to tell exactly what condition the building is in, Bentley said.

"All we really did was go down the hallways to see what is there," he said. "When we get the engineering reports, we will know more."

The three-hour meeting was not open to the public or the media because it was essentially just an OLBH committee meeting, which are not normally open, although this does involve more public input than other committees, Stautberg said.

It is too soon to say whether or not future meetings will be public because it may limit the group's ability to discuss all of the options, he said.

"We are hoping to be able to get ourselves in a situation where people can share ideas openly and freely," Stautberg said. "We want to confirm who wants to be a part of the group. Tonight is really just an organizational meeting that helps us move forward."

Former CEO Robert Maher announced the creation of the panel comprised of community members and business, government and educational leaders at a press conference in June. Overall, the response to letters seeking members has been tremendous, Stautberg said.

In total, 52 people were invited to serve on the committee that is made up solely of volunteers. About 90 percent of those people have agreed, but an official list is not yet available, Stautberg said.

People in attendance Thursday included Stautberg, Bentley, Maher, Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary, Philip Biggs, Ironton's city engineer; Matt Ward, Ironton's economic development director; Joe Unger, co-owner of Unger's Shoes; Larry Anderson, assistant fire chief in Perry Township; Rod Depriest, President of National City Bank; Bob Walters, plant manager for the Liebert Corporation; Ray "Doc" Payne, a former Ironton City Councilman; Father Thomas Nau, pastor at St. Lawrence O'Toole Catholic Church; Jim Crawford of Ohio University Southern's Center for Development; Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens, OUS science professor Bob Culp, David R. Peoples, pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church; Ironton surgeon Dr. Pacifico D. Dorado and more.

Others who have agreed to serve but were unable to attend include Dr. Bill Dingus, former dean of OUS; Dr. Dan Evans, the current dean of OUS; Dean Nance; superintendent of the Ironton School System; Charlie Kouns, recently retired health commissioner and registered sanitarian for the city of Ironton and Rich Mountain, of Scherer Mountain Insurance, Bentley said.

"I believe we have a good cross section of people from throughout the county," Stautberg said. "Ultimately, that facility had an impact on all of the county not just the Ironton, Hanging Rock and the Coal Grove area."

Bentley agreed that it will be the quality of people that will make this panel work.

"I was amazed at how diverse and intelligent the committee is, how current they are," he said. "They are a good group of community members. We are just trying to get something positive accomplished."

The panel will meet five more times during the next nine months and will make some recommendations at that point, Stautberg said. The committee could then be reconvened for more sessions or it could be divided into smaller focus groups to refine the proposals.

Stautberg and Bentley both said that OLBH is committed to this group and will use its findings to make a decision that will benefit everyone, even if that option does not include the health care industry.

"OLBH is in the business of health care and that is what we would like to use the facility for," Stautberg said. "But, we will look at all the other options as well."

Before touring the facility, panel members met at OUS. The group introduced themselves, outlined the procedures and plans for the next meeting tentatively scheduled for late August, got an overview of everyone's opinions and determined what some of the questions are that still need to be answered, Bentley said.

To help answer some of these, the committee will look at blueprints of the entire structure, examine engineering studies and health care plans that were created for the building, he said.

OLBH purchased the RVHS building last year for $5.8 million and have taken a lot of criticism from the public because has not been utilized. However, now is the time to forget the past and move on, Bentley said.

"We have to think outside the box, be educated and to look at this on a different level," he said. "All the history is behind us. We are looking to the future."