Kingsport Times-News: Ballad 'cautiously optimistic' about Lee hospital reopening in 2020
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Ballad 'cautiously optimistic' about Lee hospital reopening in 2020

Mike Still • Updated Jun 21, 2019 at 8:25 AM

A delegation from Ballad Health, the Lee County Hospital Authority and the Virginia Department of Health met with Southwest Virginia’s congressional delegation Thursday to discuss progress on reopening Lee County Hospital.

Ballad Vice President and Consultant Monty McLaurin and Senior Governmental Relations Director Stacey Ely each said they were there to brief Virginia U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Ninth District Congressman Morgan Griffith on the company’s status in obtaining federal critical access status for the proposed 10-bed hospital.

McLaurin said the meeting with the three legislators covered Ballad’s efforts in completing a health needs assessment for the hospital. That assessment depends on a combination of study by Ballad staff, work with the hospital authority and input from an advocacy group of Pennington Gap residents.

Ballad will schedule focus groups this summer to gather more community input, McLaurin said, and the final needs assessment document could be ready in early or mid-August.

The critical access hospital concept comes out of federal law designed to help maintain medical care in rural areas, McLaurin said. Ballad already operates three critical access hospitals in the region in Dickenson County, Hancock County, and Mountain City.

Along with the needs assessment, the federal application for critical access status will include project drawings and financial data on the feasibility of the project, McLaurin said. He said the goal is to have the full application ready in September.

Ely said Ballad officials are “cautiously optimistic” that the company can reopen the hospital by 2020.

“Folks in Lee County and in rural communities across Virginia deserve to have access to the health care services they need,” Warner, Kaine and Griffith said in a joint statement after the meeting. “Rural hospitals face unique challenges, but in our meeting, the delegation from Lee County laid out a plan for how we can get this done. We are cautiously optimistic that this six-year effort is reaching the finish line, and we plan to do everything in our power at the federal level to get the Lee County Hospital reopened next year.”

Schematics for the facility are ready, and the reopened hospital would include a full-service 24/7 emergency department, lab, and diagnostic facilities, Ely said. 

The hospital has been closed since 2013, when it operated under Wellmont Health Systems. Ballad partnered with the Lee County Hospital Authority in February after a previous arrangement with Americore Health fell apart because of that company’s financial troubles.

A state certificate of need for the hospital expired when Americore left the project. McLaurin said the state Department of Health has issued a new certificate for the Ballad project.

Hospital Authority officials have said that Ballad would lease the Lee County site from the authority.

Kaine and Warner earlier this year introduced the States Achieve Medicaid Expansion (SAME) Act which, if passed by Congress and signed into law, would benefit the Lee County facility and other hospitals with full eligibility for Medicaid funding in states that approved Medicaid expansion after 2014.

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