OLBH needs to back up their commitments

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 26, 2003

Tribune editorial staff

Six months ago, Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital held a press conference to announce plans that would solidify the hospital's commitment to Ironton and Lawrence County.

On that June day, OLBH announced plans to open an urgent care center in the hospital's Diagnostic Imaging Center at the Ironton Hills Plaza, create a panel to study the best way to utilize the former River Valley Health Systems building OLBH purchased for $5 million and move 50 administrative positions from the hospital's main campus in Russell, Ky., to the Ironton City Center.

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Six months later, let's review their execution of those plans. The urgent care center has come to fruition though almost simultaneously, the hospital moved additional services out of the Diagnostic Imaging Center. The oversized "blue ribbon" panel has been formed, though none of its work has been open to the public, so who knows what - if anything - it has accomplished. Now comes relocating the 50 jobs to the City Center.

This week, OLBH officials said the move to Ironton will be delayed at least another month and a half and, perhaps, it may not happen at all. According to OLBH Vice President for External Affairs Michael Stautberg, the recent change in leadership at OLBH has delayed progress on the plan. Former Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary signed off on the agreement last month, but the city is still waiting for OLBH to sign on the dotted line. New Mayor John Elam says the city is still 100 percent behind the project and has done its part by showing a heavy commitment to OLBH.

The city applied for $473,000 through four grant programs administered by the Ohio Department of Development to develop the top floor of the City Center and make downtown parking improvements for OLBH's expected move. The city agreed to pay for the majority of the development, with the hospital paying it back with a gradually increasing rent payment during the length of the eight-year lease.

Both city and hospital officials have said publicly they are optimistic the plan will proceed at some point. We just ask, "Why is there any doubt this will happen?"

From the beginning it was announced, the people of Ironton were led to believe this was a done deal in the same way we were led to believe the hospital would actually utilize the former RVHS facility for its planned urgent care center.

Obviously, OLBH is a private business. It can do as it pleases. Unfortunately, when its business plans interact with public entities, using public dollars, the hospital needs to keep it word and keep the people informed about its plans.

First, Ironton and Lawrence County was misled about the hospital's plans for developing the former RVHS building and now we are being told 50-plus jobs coming to the city may not come after all. OLBH officials have said they are committed, but all we have are promises and hopes. The people of Ironton are ready for a commitment.