LEE COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – At a virtual meeting Wednesday, the Lee County Hospital Authority was updated by Ballad Health officials with some good news: the Lee County Community Hospital is back under construction and slated to open in the summer of 2021.
In March 2020, Ballad Health ceased all construction projects, including the Lee County hospital project. Commissioners learned Wednesday that the health system resumed construction on Aug. 31, and anticipates to reopen the hospital in the summer of next year.
News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais spoke to Lee County Administrator Dane Poe who said he is excited for the new facility and what it will mean to the residents of Lee County, Virginia.
“The loss of the hospital and the emergency department had a terrible impact on the county, anything of an emergency nature you were adding 30 to 40 minutes travel time just to get to a hospital, to get a patient to a hospital, and it’s impacted almost every family in the county at some point in time over the last seven years,” Poe said. “It’s been a long process, we had hoped it wouldn’t take this long, but I’m just happy that we will see it happen.”
With the coronavirus pandemic in mind, Poe said the new hospital will bring peace of mind to the citizens of his county.
“That just weighed heavier on people’s minds, knowing that if they do get it and if it’s a case where it is a more severe case, where it requires hospitalization, they can go somewhere close by,” he said.
In the Wednesday meeting, Ballad Health officials agreed.
“In light of COVID-19, we’ve had to make some major changes and continue to have to make difficult
decisions,” said Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine in a press release shortly after the meeting. “But this is one decision our Board of Directors feels strongly about. Lee County is an important part of the Appalachian Highlands, and we believe this hospital will be an important access point for this community. This is one of the few communities in America that has lost their hospital, but through their efforts and our partnership with them, they will see a new, reconfigured and hopefully sustainable hospital for the future.”
When Ballad Health halted construction in March, commissioners said during the meeting that they were worried about how long that halt would last.
“They told us they were only stopping construction temporarily, and they kept their word. After a brief five month pause, they are restarting their remodeling and construction activity,” added Hospital Authority Commissioner, Howard Elliott, in the release.
“We have a lot of people to thank for keeping our dream of hospital in Lee County alive and we
appreciate them all,” said Hospital Authority Commissioner Diana Pope.
Elliott and Pope, according to the Authority Chairperson Ronnie Montgomery, have led the Authority’s effort with Ballad Health.
Like many governmental meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital authority’s meeting with Ballad Health officials and officials with the Virginia Department of Health, was conducted virtually.
“The decision to resume construction at Lee County Hospital is welcome news,” said Rep. Morgan
Griffith, who serves Virginia’s 9th district in the United States House of Representatives, in the release. “It will move us closer to completing the project of reopening the hospital and providing the people of Lee County with its important medical services.”
In April, Ballad Health announced that, due to severe cuts in volumes and loss of revenue related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was suspending all capital spending and major construction projects across the system, the release stated. However, even though the health system expects those losses to continue into the fall and throughout the winter, the health system’s Board of Directors voted to resume construction and progress on Lee County Community Hospital, believing its benefit to the community outweighs any potential financial impact, the release continued.
“Even as COVID-19 has been challenging, and devastating for so many of us, Ballad Health has done
everything possible to protect our patients and community – and even improve care,” said Marvin
Eichorn, Ballad Health’s chief administrative officer, in the release. “When it reopens, Lee County Community Hospital will be a model for rural healthcare, specifically designed to fit the needs of this community and lead healthcare in Southwest Virginia and Southeast Kentucky into the future. Moreover, rural hospitals such as Lee County Community Hospital are vital to our local economies, and as we progress toward opening this new facility, we look forward to seeing the improved economy and quality of life for everyone in the hospital’s surrounding area.”
Ballad Health officials announced that when the hospital opens next summer, it will join the rest of Ballad Health’s hospitals on the Epic electronic health records platform, which provides patients and their care teams unprecedented new options for access, care, and security of patient records. Epic is currently available in all of Ballad Health’s outpatient centers and physician practices, as well as many of its hospitals, with the remainder going live on October 1, according to the release. This Epic platform means that whether patients seek care in Lee County, or from any Ballad Health facility, their records will be available to them and to their provider.
Even as the pandemic temporarily halted hospital construction, Ballad Health officials announced it continued the internal work to provide Lee County Community Hospital with the necessary foundation for Epic. Additionally, because Ballad Health Medical Associates Urgent Care in Lee County already provides this service, many patients in the community are already able to register for MyChart, the patient portal available through Epic, and access their medical records through the Ballad Health mobile app.
“As a Lee County native, I personally understand how important reopening this hospital is to the
community and my constituents,” said Sen. Todd Pillion, who represents Virginia’s 40th district in the Commonwealth’s legislature, in the release. “The decision to resume construction comes at a critical time, and we look forward to getting this facility ready and open to serve our region’s patients.”
When completed, officials explained that the Lee County Community Hospital will open as a Critical Access Hospital, a designation created by Congress to reduce financial vulnerability or rural hospitals and improve access to healthcare by keeping essential services in rural communities.
To qualify as a Critical Access Hospital, Lee County Community Hospital must:
• Have 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds
• Be more than a 35-mile drive from another hospital or be more than a 15-mile drive from
another hospital in an area with mountain terrain or only secondary roads
• Maintain an annual average length of stay of 96 hours or less for acute care patients
• Provide 24/7 emergency care services
The Lee County Community Hospital will have a total bed capacity of 20, officials announced during the meeting.
You can watch the full meeting here: