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St. Mary’s, Lawrence County CAO team up

SOUTH POINT — In order to make a full-service hospital in Lawrence County a reality, organizers of the effort knew it would take much more than a facility.

They knew it would take a network of health care providers, willing patients and a supporting community.

Believing those elements exist in Lawrence County, St. Mary’s Medical Center and the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization made it official Friday that they have formed a partnership to provide primary care at the Family Medical Centers in Ironton, Coal Grove, South Point and Chesapeake.

D.R. Gossett, executive director of the CAO, said a lot of work has taken place to make the announcement a possibility.

“Work on this collaboration has been ongoing behind the scenes, laying the groundwork for growth that we expect to achieve,” Gossett said. “Our staff has spent time at St. Mary’s and has become immersed in the St. Mary’s culture.”

Patients at the family medical center will have access to all services offered at St. Mary’s, including specialist doctors who practice there. Gossett said efforts are under way to make additional services available at some of the family medical centers.

Todd Campbell, chief operating officer for St. Mary’s, said there were hurdles to overcome, but both parties worked through the challenges.

“About a year and a half or two years ago there was concern regarding physician interest,” Campbell said. “But (the CAO) and the (physicians) group that is affiliated with the other project have stepped up. You can build a hospital, but if you don’t have people who would come and support it, it doesn’t work.”

Ralph Kline, community development director for the CAO, said the effort began to pick up steam when St. Mary’s became interested.

“(A turning point was) when we had a health care partner that shared our vision. We needed a partner for an array of services for all people, whether they have no insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance,” Kline said. “St. Mary’s envisions a similar mission to ours, to help and assist people in a businesslike manner.”

Gossett said the process has been an extensive one.

“They’ve kicked the tires pretty hard the last six months,” Gossett said.

The centers will continue to be operated by the CAO. St. Mary’s will accept patient referrals, but patients can choose a different hospital if they so desire.

“We are not by any means taking services away,” Gossett said. “We are providing additional services.”

Lawrence County Healthcare Futures, LLC, a consortium that includes St. Mary’s, the CAO, the Lawrence Economic Development Corp., ClearPoint Companies, the Lawrence County Port Authority and other entities, announced plans for health care in Lawrence County last month.

The group announced a two-phased plan, the first of which is to construct the family medical center with extended urgent care hours with the possibility of other services — including an imaging center, surgery center, and other specialty clinical space — at the intersection of U.S. 52 and State Route 141. Construction on Phase 1 will begin at an unspecified date in 2009.

The ultimate goal of the consortium is to build a full-service hospital at that location.

Campbell said the quality of care at the family medical centers made the process easier. The centers serve thousands of primary care patients a year and have received high ratings from the Joint Commission accreditation board, according to the hospital.

St. Mary’s is the Tri-State’s largest hospital, with 393 beds.

Announcements were made Friday at each of the four family medical centers.

but at the September announcement representatives of the parties involved said it would depend on the success of earlier steps in the project.