St. Mary#039;s would bring county veteran presence

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What does Lawrence County and the Cincinnati Bengals have in common? Both are looking for some big-time free agents to join the team. Cincinnati's game is football while the county's competition is played out in the field of health care.

The Bengals have only been moderately successful in adding free agents - typically veteran players looking for new opportunities - but the county may have scored a touchdown last week when it was announced that St. Mary's Medical Center has joined a partnership that could lead to a long-term health care commitment.

Made up of Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization

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representatives, local elected officials and other economic development leaders, the Lawrence County Hospital Steering Committee will partner with SMMC on a comprehensive feasibility study to examine exactly what type of hospital service the community needs and would support and how SMMC could meet that need.

This move could be compared to signing a veteran quarterback that has been battle-tested and who thrives under the pressure. All of the area hospitals may have been legitimate partners but it was St. Mary's that stepped up and made the big play. Having a partner such as this moves the entire project up from the rebuilding stage to a definite contender.

The issue really began in 2001 when the former River Valley Health Systems closed its doors for good. The steering committee began working on the future and eventually took the community's pulse through a study last year that gauged the community's thoughts, desires and interests in a local hospital.

Study results indicated the survey respondents preferred SMMC for a potential new hospital development. So, this is the next step - and a good one.

From here, a member of the St. Mary's management team will become a member of the committee. Then another study will attempt to fully assess the needs and focus more on the financial aspects involved with creating a new medical facility.

Much of the details still must be worked out and St. Mary's and CAO officials are quick to point out that this is no promise of future commitment.

Maybe not, but it shows that the county is committed to building a winning franchise that can bring home to the residents the ultimate prizes - health and prosperity.