Lee County residents, authority look forward to hospital purchase


LEE COUNTY, Va. - As health care administrators work to reopen the Lee County hospital, the community still waits in limbo.

A new owner is coming on board, not part of the regional hospital merger. But if something goes wrong, that new merged system will provide backup assurance for Lee County.

In the meantime, some of those in need have had to travel to find care.

"We try to take care of all of our patients here. We have been forced to act as almost a small hospital, especially since this hospital closed," Lee Health and Rehab Nursing Director Ashley Jones said.

The rehab center is hopeful for the return of critical care here since the sale of the hospital to Florida-based Americore last summer. Those involved say the deal is moving forward.

A 110-bed capacity for the health and rehab center reminds them of an urgent daily need.

"We have to send them to either Big Stone or Harlan or Middlesboro, which is either 30 or 45 minutes away from here," Jones said. "So with that, it actually, unfortunately, increased the transportation costs for our patients that have to pay for ambulance transportation to those places."

It has residents and those who work here constantly considering their options in emergencies. "Having this hospital here will lessen that burden on families who are already going through a tough time and having to make tough decision. It'll be one less they'll have to consider," Business owner Jason Sturgill said.

It has been a question citizens have been having to ask since the hospital closed in 2013, but answers are apparently finally on the way as leaders continue to meet and finalize documentation of the sale to Americore. There is also now a backup plan. Recent approval by Virginia's health commissioner of a merger between Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System requires that merged system to ensure essential services here in Lee County if Americore does not get a hospital opened by the end of 2018 "The health commissioner in her documents put a lot of protections in there for the employees, so that we don't have to go through another layoff or closure," Delegate Terry Kilgore said.

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