In a surprise announcement Monday, Brandon Simmons, chairman of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, said that the hospital is not reopening as planned.
Following months of speculation, Patrick officials recently learned that its former hospital in Stuart will not reopen as planned. The county had received assurances that Foresight Health group, which purchased the facility in 2022, would be remodeling and reopening the facility by December 2023, a release stated.
No reason was given by Foresight for the change of plans.
“We are disappointed that the promises made to Patrick County leaders and citizens by this company will not be fulfilled,” said Simmons, who the announcement Monday at a board meeting.
He said speculation that the hospital would not reopen at all had been circulating for months.
“There is not currently any additional information to share about the future use of the property located at 18688 Jeb Stuart Highway,” he said.
Like many rural communities that lose their hospitals, Patrick County’s Pioneer Hospital closed in 2017. Healthcare access was the top identified need in a 2019 community health needs assessment and improvement plan led by the Virginia Department of Health (West Piedmont District).
“Foresight Health knows how important it is to have a hospital with an emergency room in this community,” Joseph Hyak-Reinholtz, the general counsel and Chief Operating Officer for Foresight Hospital and Health System, wrote in an emailed statement Friday. “Since we obtained ownership of the property formerly known as Pioneer Hospital, we have developed and considered several plans to achieve the goal of reopening the hospital.
“However, as 2023 turns into 2024, we have yet to develop a plan that makes sense both clinically and financially,” he wrote. “That is, we have yet to develop a plan that we believe can provide an adequate scope of services while also being profitable. That is precisely why we did not open the hospital in 2023.
“We are considering all options now that we are in the first quarter of 2024. Nothing is off the table,” Hylak-Reinholtz wrote. “We will continue to work with local officials to make something happen. We continue to speak with Del. Wren Williams and other local officials who have been nothing but supportive since day one. We ask that you remain patient.”
Williams, R-Stuart, said that the “costs of improvements started to stack up. I don’t believe they received good advice from their original architect from the jump.”
Although “I don’t think they’ll be able to go forward at this time,” Williams noted that “luckily, the license remains intact so it’s still a viable facility certified by the state – this was my bill from 2022. And no taxpayer dollars went into the project,” not from the town, county or state. He added that he also is “not aware of any federal grants” the company received.
County Administrator Beth Simms said she is not aware of any funds the company owes the county, besides taxes (see related story).
“They’ve never pulled like a building permit or anything. So, they haven’t had any permit fees or anything yet,” she said, adding the county also did not provide incentives.
“Ultimately, they’re a private business that can do as they please,” Williams said. “We will continue to work with them on moving this project forward or some type of sale or transfer to another provider. Regardless, we should continue to work to find a solution such as finding a new owner-provider, consider a new building, and research more creative alternatives such as a stand-alone Emergency Room – something that’s being discussed in the General Assembly this year.”
Last week, House Speaker Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, announced the creation of a temporary 12-member committee tasked with addressing the lack of healthcare access in rural areas like Patrick County.
The committee will begin meeting on May 1. It is directed to propose at least five legislative recommendations by Nov. 15, according to the Virginia Mercury, which noted the 12-person committee will include seven Democrats and five Republicans.
The online outlet reported that in a release announcing the committee, Scott said, “For the first time in generations, life expectancy in the United States has decreased. This is acute in our rural communities where suicide, overdose deaths, and diabetes are on the rise. … It is critical that we address this matter with the urgency it deserves.”
Simmons said a Healthcare Access Committee was formed immediately after receiving confirmation that Foresight was not proceeding with its planned renovation and reopening.
Simms said the goal of the committee is to provide leaders and stakeholders with the ability to collectively approach legitimate healthcare providers about what healthcare services are feasible in Patrick County.
Mobile integrated healthcare solutions already are being developed in the county, she said. The model uses medical mobile units to deliver healthcare out into the community. Supporting these efforts is the existing Healthy Patrick County, a coalition of healthcare, educational, and economic development resources, and individuals who in December concluded a new health needs analysis in Patrick County.
Healthy Patrick County once again has identified access to healthcare as the top concern and is studying best practices to address the access issue.
The committee “is still under development,” said Simms, who is now working to develop the mission, vision, and bylaws of the committee. She will then present a proposal to the board, along with a draft roster of members.
Once established, committee members will collect data and make a “collaborative effort to go out and talk to legitimate healthcare providers” in a “concerted effort to bring sustainable healthcare access to the county.”
“Now that we have confirmation that Foresight will not be opening a hospital in Patrick County, we can seek partnerships with other healthcare providers and look at homegrown solutions,” Simmons said.