Hospital feasibility study moving forward

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 29, 2004

A feasibility study evaluating the need for a hospital in Lawrence County will soon include the community's input.

Art Wicinski, a Cleveland-based independent consultant, is heading a feasibility study that will examine the needs of the community and whether or not it could support some form of hospital. The county has been without a full-scale health care facility since January 2001 when River Valley Health Systems closed. Soon, the study will include public opinion surveys of county residents.

The Lawrence County Commissioners, Ironton Mayor John Elam and representatives with Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services, the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation and the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization partnered to initiate the study last month.

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The initial phase will assess the local market, services needed and public sentiment. A conference call was conducted last week so that everyone involved could get brought up to date.

After hammering out some of the administrative details that included naming D.R. Gossett as the chair of the committee and approving contracts with Wicinski, discussion centered around critical-access hospitals.

This type of facility could provide urgent care, 24-hour inpatient services with typical stays of two to three days in a 25-bed facility, said Ralph Kline, executive director of development for the CAO.

"A critical-access hospital is probably the option of choice at this time, but it is not without obstacles as far as the designation and the federal legislation," Kline said. "It is one proven model that has been successful in communities like ours, but there are others."

Wicinski has assembled a team of professionals to help him with the study including a former health planner, a former hospital administrator and an architectural consultant. The group presented a rough draft of a public opinion survey that will be direct mailed to many county residents in upcoming months.

"The questions revolve around what has happened after River Valley closed," Kline said. "Where is the population going now? What services are needed?"

Some of the questions will determine basic demographic information including household size, age and user patterns. Other questions will focus more on public perception and opinion.

Sample questions may include "Do you feel a hospital is needed?" or "If there was a hospital, would you use it for outpatient services, emergency care or other uses?"

The group also talked about the next step that includes focus groups and interviews with local physicians, business people, elected officials and other entities that are still being defined.

Hopefully, a preliminary report will be available May 15 that will include some information about critical-access hospitals, regulations and a review of information already existing, Kline said.