Officials with the Foresight Hospital and Health System in Stuart met with local residents to discuss the future of the hospital and potential concerns at a town hall on Monday, Aug. 22.
Del. Wren Williams, R-Stuart, said one of the biggest things he heard in running for office was the need for a local hospital. “It used to be we need jobs, and then it became we need a hospital,” he said. “I felt like that was pretty rough.”
When he ran for office, Williams said he wanted to try to provide some sort of care to help stop the strain on the Emergency Management System (EMS), local medical personnel, and the community. Instead, Foresight became interested in the area and taking over the hospital.
“One of the things that allowed us to be able to do this was a bill that I put in in my work with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and also the Hospital Association here in Virginia. One of the big things that we had to deal with was the red tape with the COPN (Certificate of Public Need) licensure,” he said.
Williams said the county was in the situation of losing its license if it couldn’t get a new provider for the former Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick County.
“We were really able to fast track and extend the license to make sure we didn’t lose that license, which is very attractive to potential buyers,” he said. “Luckily with the conversation that I was having with the Foresight team we were able to bring this to fruition.”
Chief Operating Officer (COO) and General Counsel Joseph Hylak-Reinholtz said Foresight’s mission has always been to serve underserved communities.
“For years, we’ve been doing that in underserved urban areas in Chicago and other places around the country. I was very excited about expanding what we do into rural health,” he said.
Hylak-Reinholtz said he’s excited and invested in ensuring the hospital can work for Patrick County and Stuart. “We also want to do it smartly, and we have a plan to phase in the services we provide, and we’re looking to start providing services in early 2023,” he said.
Foresight plans to first open the emergency department and establish about five critical access beds. Support services like radiology, imaging, laboratory, and pharmacy are also planned. Foresight will phase in other services as needed.
Hylak-Reinholtz said Foresight is also preparing to submit a COPN application to create a 10-bed area for psychiatric care and substance abuse treatment, which he said members of the community have described as a critical need.
He said Foresight will also look at expanding into other services like dialysis and surgeries. The company is also considering adding a cancer treatment center and other services in the long-term.
Throughout his career, Dr. Sameer Suhail, president and CEO of Foresight, said he’s been able to start many healthcare businesses with some of them focusing on advancing healthcare in Illinois, educating physicians, and providing them with proper placement in hospitals, primarily in underserved areas.
“My intuition in coming here to Stuart was on target,” Suhail said. “It made me sad that a hospital had closed down after serving a community for generations. So, I really wanted to make a difference.”
Suhail said Foresight’s focus is to make a difference by giving the community what it had before, but on a better scale. He added the one thing he wanted to do was bring in psychiatric services to the community.
For the past four or five years of his life, Suhail said he’s been an advocate for substance abuse treatment and ran a psychiatric physician group based out of Chicago. “I’ve seen what we can do and what we can change in terms of peoples’ lives and families. This is really an epidemic that a lot of people don’t realize yet,” he said.
Suhail said mental health has caused many emotional distresses, especially after COVID-19. “It has broken families, it has broken kids, and it’s very rare to find treatment. And if you can’t find treatment in urban areas imagine in rural areas,” he said.
Dr. Sharon Sidell, Director of Clinical Operations for Foresight, said mental illness and substance abuse issues are medical problems many people have a difficult time acknowledging and knowing how to manage.
She noted this is especially true because of the difficult times people are facing right now. “It’s difficult for all of us, but it’s particularly difficult for vulnerable people that don’t have ways to manage stress and difficulties that many of us have,” she said.
Sidell said the planned proposal of a 10-bed unit for adults with mental illness and concurrent substance abuse will help those that cannot find treatment or haven’t found medication they like taking.
“They often take to the streets and use drugs that are more easily accessible. That is what we call co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse problems,” she said. On the other side, during her clinical work, Sidell said she’s met very few people that don’t have underlying depression, anxiety disorder, or worse.
“What we want to do is be responsible for the inpatient component of what folks need, and we also want to work with the community agencies that are currently offering outpatient care,” she said.
Sidell said Foresight wants to offer programs that are accessible during the weekends. “We will have emergency services for people that are in crisis, and we are hoping to provide transportation as we know that it is not always easy for someone in a crisis to get treatment in a hospital,” she said.
Dr. Sam Suhail, Resident Psychiatric at Loretto Hospital in Chicago and Sameer Suhail’s brother, said for decades mental health services have been met with stigma in several communities, especially in rural areas. “That stigma contributes to a lack of accessibility,” he said.
In recent years, Sam Suhail said there was a push for mental health initiatives because the demand was high. “When you have substance abuse increase rates, you have many comorbidities in terms of depression, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), mental instabilities such as anxiety and schizophrenia” and others, he said.
Sam Suhail said this contributes to occupational disfunctions, outcomes in employment, family violence, and suicide and homicide rates. “So, there are many issues here that are relative to why we need to support mental health initiatives in rural communities,” he said.
To help the community, Jeanette Filpi, Director of Project Development for Foresight, said Foresight wants to develop relationships with other local health providers. “You develop those partnerships because each entity in our healthcare system plays a role in taking care of our community,” she said.
Filpi emphasized that Foresight does not see the hospital as a business venture that is out to put down others and do away with the competition. “How do we add into the community and just enhance those (existing) services? We will be reaching out to all of those,” she said.