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Officials: Group to analyze health care needs

St. Mary’s Medical Center will be a key player in a new partnership that will analyze the health care needs of Lawrence County, including weighing the potential need for a new hospital.

Doug Korstanje, director of marketing and community relations for the Huntington, W.Va., health care provider, confirmed that a partnership with the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, a group of physicians and business leaders lead to the formation of a company: Lawrence County’s Healthcare Future LLC.

“The new business partnership will allow all the involved groups to look at ways to improve care for patients without those patients having to make frequent trips out of their home communities,” Korstanje said, reading a prepared statement. “St. Mary’s, CAO and the interested physician group want to do everything possible to provide the most advanced care to local patients.”

Right to the point

When asked directly if this meant that St. Mary’s would build a new hospital, Korstanje emphasized that the organization didn’t want to make promises that it cannot honor or falsely build up expectations.

“We will do everything possible, that the community will support, and that is financially feasible,” he said, adding that this approach will be one of the many avenues that will be analyzed.

The new corporation’s board — comprised of three physicians, three representatives from St. Mary’s and three from the CAO and other community groups — will continue to look at a variety of options for health care. All these groups have been meeting for more than two years.

Although no timetable for other developments has been outlined, Korstanje was clear that this could be the first step toward other projects and the this partnership is just one way St. Mary’s is looking to serve the community.

“In addition to this board, we are looking at other initiatives to improve health care in Lawrence County,” he said.

A new relationship

CAO leaders believe this will be a beneficial relationship that provides Lawrence Countians with the best health care options available.

“It is evident to us that this is a tremendous opportunity and leverage if we can put the right groups together,” CAO executive director D.R. Gossett said, adding that he has been encouraged by the vision of all those involved. “With everything, the timing has to be right and we feel that now is the right time for this.”

But the question everyone wants answered is: Can a hospital be successful in the county?

“I’m confident that Lawrence County can support a hospital. I had a gut feeling. We did a preliminary study. We did a formal study,” CAO executive director D.R. Gossett said. “I am confident, but none of those studies matter until you get the right partners together.”

Long time coming

This announcement follows months of speculation about the progress made toward the development of a new hospital for the Ironton area.

Despite the close proximity of several healthcare facilities, many have pursued the idea of a new hospital after the demise of the former River Valley Hospital. The Ironton facility closed its doors in January 2001 under a mountain of debt and years of mismanagement.

In late 2003, the Lawrence County Hospital Steering Committee was formed with CAO representatives, local elected officials and other economic development leaders.

One of the group’s first moves was to take the community’s pulse. It launched a study in the summer of 2004 to examine the community’s thoughts, desires and interests in a local hospital.

The results showed that many in the community preferred SMMC for a potential new hospital development.

A preliminary analysis was followed by a comprehensive feasibility study that fully assessed the needs what they could expect in this market.

Originally, the group was focused on bringing a critical access hospital with approximately 25 beds

But they quickly discovered that this model probably would not work and are now looking at other options.

In May 2005, the committee and SMMC partnered to develop a feasibility study that analyzed exactly what health care facilities the community needs and could support.