CEO#039;s talk has hint of warning over new facility

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 29, 2004

Public sentiment is a little like a balloon. It can inflate when people get excited or upset over something. And, conversely, it can deflate when apathy takes over.

If some folks in Ironton were getting inflated with excitement over the prospect of a new hospital, the last thing they needed was to see someone with a needle in their hand.

Enter new Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital CEO Mark Gordon - the man with the subtle needle.

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Gordon, who recently took the helm of the Russell, Ky.-based hospital system, spoke last week to members of the Ironton Rotary Club.

Gordon spoke about all sorts of things - from the impending demise of Social Security to how important the hospitals in the area are to the local economy.

In the Ashland, Ky., area, two hospitals - King's Daughters Medical Center and OLBH - rank first and third, respectively, in overall employment. AK Steel is second, according to Gordon.

But out of all of the comments Gordon weaved together on Wednesday, a few sounded suspiciously like a subtle warning - a needle if you will - to the citizens of Ironton and Lawrence County who support the construction of a new hospital.

What's interesting is all that has occurred to date relative to a new hospital is that the county commissioners have agreed to spend $15,000 for a preliminary feasibility study.

"Is it a good thing for Ironton to have a hospital?" Gordon asked. "Yes. Could Ironton support a hospital? Probably."

He encouraged audience members to consider the current healthcare climate.

"Any hospital existing today would tell you, there's no more difficult time to keep a hospital afloat than today," Gordon said. "One of the most difficult things to do at this time is build a new hospital."

In addition, Gordon said, even if a new facility is built, the ongoing expenses is staggering.

"The cost of doing that (operating a new facility) is a very challenging dynamic," he said. "Nurses are hard to come by. Technologists are hard to come by."

Blame it on uneducated ears, but that sounds like a preemptive warning not to consider opening a small hospital.

"Competition is a good thing," Gordon said. "It brings out the best in us. Competition for competition's sake brings out harm. … There's a place for competition and a place for collaboration."

Gordon's warning may, in fact, be right on the money. The feasibility studies may prove him correct. But for now, such a warning does little than to deflate the community's expectations. And, for what it's worth, we must consider the source and his motives.

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