ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL)—People in part of the Tri-Cities said lives are being lost because a community does not have a local hospital.
Wellmont Health System closed Lee Regional Medical Center in October 2013, pointing to federal reimbursement cuts and low community use among the reasons. Ever since, the Southwest Virginia community has rallied to reopen its doors.
Thursday, Lee County officials took their concerns to the Southwest Virginia Health Authority Board. The board is currently reviewing the merger application filed by the region’s health systems.
“The fact of the matter is, people are dying because we don’t have a hospital,” said Lee County Sheriff, Gary Parsons.
Parsons said they have six rescue squads, but that is not enough to cover the amount of calls they receive.
“It’s a great liability, but we’ve loaded folks into our cruisers to help the rescue squad. Because you can’t just stay there and not do anything in those situations,” he said.
After public outcry when the Wellmont Health System closed the hospital in 2013, Mountain States Health Alliance signed a lease agreement with plans to open an urgent care service in the building as soon as last year.
“It is still in the discussion stages,” said Lee County Hospital Authority Commissioner, Howard Elliott.
Some in Lee County fear that the on-going merger of Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health delayed the return of health care to their community.
“We’re not a priority for either of the organizations,” said Elliott.
Residents are also concerned that if they do not get a commitment to open the hospital through the merger, it will not happen.
“I’d say they are probably right,” said Southwest Virginia Health Alliance Chairman, Terry Kilgore. “Now is the time to get some kind of access for Lee County.”
News Channel 11 reached out to Mountain States Health Alliance to ask about the status of the Lee County Hospital. This is what they told us:
“Mountain States Health Alliance shares the Lee County Hospital Authority’s desire to ensure residents of Lee County have access to essential health care services. We stand ready to work with the hospital authority as they develop innovative solutions for meeting the county’s health care needs.”
News Channel 11 also reached out to Wellmont Health System:
“Input from the Lee County community is very important, and we appreciate its efforts. We are pleased to continue providing primary care services in the county. We are also thankful for the work of the Commonwealth in examining the future of health care in Southwest Virginia and look forward to receiving questions from the Southwest Virginia Health Authority as it conducts its important work.”