Ads speak volumes about hospital#039;s demise

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 26, 2004

Lots of folks have lots to say about the demise of River Valley Health System.

The former Lawrence General Hospital served thousands of county residents for generations.

After struggling beneath a growing amount of debt, hospital officials finally threw in the towel in early 2001.

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In closing, the hospital ended a long tradition of health care and employment for several hundred residents.

Robert Payne, the accountant who was chosen to help sort out the mess left in the wake of the hospital's closure, said something that was telling about those hundreds of employees.

"Those people had a lot of pride in that place," Payne said, describing how the staff carefully cleaned and put away everything on the final day, fully expecting the shutdown to be temporary.

"It literally looked like one of those 'Twilight Zone' movies where suddenly all the people disappeared. It was like the next day you could walk in and do business again. It was unreal."

His final three words, perhaps more than any others, sum up the demise of the hospital: it was unreal.

This month marks the third year since the hospital closed. And, in the three years since, many people have been talking about what exactly happened, why it happened and who is to blame.

Some blame changing federal funding and a depressed economy. Others blame all sorts of things from specific personnel who "did wrong" to a struggle to keep doctors affiliated with the hospital.

While it is true that losing federal funds along with the already depressed economic conditions did little to help the hospital, saying that is the sole cause is looking only at the surface.

One need look no further than the pages of this newspaper in editions immediately following the closure of River Valley to see that although the healthcare industry may have been struggling, it was far from dead in the winter of 2001.

Holzer Medical Center was touting its newly opened Holzer Hospital Jackson, just up the road to our north. Almost immediately following the announcement of the hospital's closure, employment ads from other medical facilities began popping up in the classifieds. Facilities from Chillicothe to Ashland, Ky., and from Portsmouth to Gallipolis were in need of a few good employees and their searches provide a little insight into how other facilities where handling the economic downturn and federal cuts. As a rule, most places do not hire when finances are in dire shape.

Something was different about their facilities than River Valley. Was it the administration, the spending, or something else?

Perhaps, in time, we'll all have a better understanding of the true causes. Until then, the talking about the hospital will continue.

Say what you want about the demise of River Valley Health System, but one thing is certain. Even three years after its own death, the building and the people who made it operate still have a place in our hearts.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Tribune. He can be reached by calling (740) 532-1445 ext. 12 or by e-mail to