Opinions could affect plans for hospital

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 19, 2004

Do Lawrence Countians want a hospital of their own and if such a hospital became a reality, would they support it?

Organizers of a local effort to determine the feasibility of new county hospital

sent out questionnaires Friday to 16,000 county residents, asking them about their health care needs and if they would support the development of a hospital in the Ironton area.

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The surveys are being sent via U.S. mail.

The survey asks such questions as whether anyone in the household has used hospital services in the last two years, what hospital services were used, what hospital was visited and whether the care was satisfactory or not. The survey also asks if the anyone in the household ever used the old River Valley Hospital

and what, if any, medical services they would like to see available in Lawrence County.

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 in March.

"People who get this survey need to fill it out and send it in," Lawrence County Commissioner George Patterson said. "There are funding sources we can get if people are willing to utilize this hospital. We're going to do everything we can to see that it happens."

CAO Executive Director D.R. Gossett said he hopes to have the questionnaires returned by mid-July. Residents on the extreme eastern end of the county were not included in the survey area, since they are unlikely to bypass hospitals directly across the river in Huntington, W.Va., and drive 30 miles to the Ironton area for medical care.

"We haven't decided whether (the results) will be a published product, a slick glossy thing, or if it will be a compilation of notes," Gossett said. "It probably depends on the directions things go as we get the feasibility determined."

Organizers recently conducted a survey of nearly a dozen local doctors, asking their opinions on a new hospital. In the meantime, consultant Art Wicinski of Cleveland is working on a financial model for the proposed hospital. When finished, that model will provide information on what it would cost to develop such a facility as well as other financial considerations, such as available grant funding that could help foot the bill for a new hospital.

Gossett said the results of the survey and the financial model being constructed by Wicinski will have a great impact on what, if anything, happens next.

"He will take the (results of the) survey and filter it into the financial analysis and that will tell us whether to go on to phase two or not," Gossett said, adding that he is not sure what agency will actually compile the information from the survey.

Gossett said that, depending on the results of the survey, organizers could move ahead with phase two of the feasibility study - the design of a marketing plan to take to potential investors and to use to obtain funding for the hospital.

Patterson said two people from outside the area have expressed an interest in medical facilities in Lawrence and Meigs counties, if surveys show there is a need for hospitals in these counties. He declined to identify the people who have expressed interest.

Gossett said the survey is a chance for those who have been angry about losing the county's only hospital to make their opinions known, and possibly turn their anger into action.

"If we take all the frustration the community has now, and turn it into something constructive, such as hope for a new facility, that will make a tremendous impact. We can build a top-notch facility and staff it well, but if we don't have the usage, then it's not viable."