By Taylor Boyd and Callie Hietala
The former Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick County recently was purchased by the Chicago-based Foresight HS Holdings – Blue Ridge, LLC.
The company confirmed on April 13 that a purchase agreement for the vacant property is in place. “Foresight is a new healthcare system with plans to open as a healthcare facility. More details to come at a later date,” an official release stated.
The announcement came days after Del. Wren Williams’, R-Stuart, so-called hospital bill was officially signed into law by Gov. Glenn Youngkin on April 8.
Williams’ bill, HB1305, secured the hospital’s license as an acute care and critical access hospital for a future provider to resume operating a similar hospital in the country.
Williams said the bill restores the licenses the hospital lost in 2017 due to its closure.
“Since we’re able to reinstate those licenses, it makes our hospital more attractive because you don’t have to go through the red tape and the bureaucracy to get a new project under COP (Conditions of Participation) laws approved,” he said.
Williams said that anyone who is willing to be a provider can immediately start up the hospital with the services like the Emergency Room (ER) and imaging.
“Since our Patrick County hospital closed in 2017, we continue to live day after day without a hospital or even a vital emergency room in our community. In a health emergency, seconds matter, and our nearest emergency room is over 30 minutes away in Martinsville, Virginia. The transport time has also strained our EMS volunteers to their limits,” he said.
Williams introduced the bill Jan. 21 as a reopening feasibility study. The bill passed both chambers of the Virginia state government uncontested.
Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Sean Adkins said Williams deserves the lion’s share of credit for the sale of the hospital.
“Kind of pivoting from the feasibility study to getting this licensure and getting the HB 1305 signed because without that this doesn’t happen,” Adkins said, adding the licensure was the biggest obstacle when trying to get organizations to buy the property.
“After losing it, I believe it would have been a very substantial amount of time for someone to receive a new license,” he said.
Because Foresight is an out-of-state company, Adkins estimated that it would have taken the company a minimum of six months to get a new license “if everything went perfectly.”
Foresight received no incentives for purchasing the property, but will receive Enterprise Zone benefits.
“I know that there are many people in this county and community that didn’t think this day would come, and it’s just the best possible news and the best-case scenario,” Adkins said, and added his experience in working with Foresight has been very positive so far.
“They’ve been a very great group to work with, and they’re really going to make an effort to listen to the community and kind of grow with it,” he said.
State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta, agreed that Williams deserves “a lot of credit” for his role in helping push the project forward. “I’d grown a little frustrated with all our efforts seeming not to bear fruit. Then Wren came in with his bill, and then he was able to move very quickly,” he said.
Stanley said when Pioneer closed in 2017 “it shut down almost without notice.” He said Pioneer had received a loan from Virginia Community Capital (VCC) for rehabilitation and upgrades to the hospital. “They put cosmetic upgrades on the front, and they took the rest of the money back home and went bankrupt.”
Stanley said he got involved to prevent the hospital losing its certifications and accreditations from the state once it shut down, including its critical care designation, which allowed it to take Medicare and Medicaid patients. Stanley said those designations were valuable to the hospital.
He said that he looked at hospital records which indicated it was running at a profit. “It wasn’t the hospital that was suffering, it was mismanagement,” he said.
So, he sponsored a bill to “keep the critical care certifications and all the credentials that the hospital had from the state for a year so we could try to find a buyer.”
Initially he said, the Democrats killed the bill in a bid to get him to vote for Medicaid expansion, but he revived it and was able to get it passed. “So, we were able to keep the accreditation of the hospital for a year even though it wasn’t operating,” he said.
Stanley worked with Appalachian Power and the Town of Stuart to keep the power and water on for a year after the facility closed to allow the boiler and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system to continue operating to reduce mold accumulation and other detrimental effects to the building.
He also worked with the economic development office to gather a group of Patrick County residents, business owners, and officials to lobby the General Assembly and the VCC to buy the building or help lease it to a healthcare provider.
“We had meeting after meeting in Richmond about that, but the problem was VCC, which had this $7 million note against the building that had been defaulted on by” the previous owner, “and would not sell it for less than that value,” he said. “Our hands were tied. VCC wouldn’t sell the building for less than $7 million, and the building wasn’t worth $7 million.”
Stanley said he spoke with a number of healthcare operators at the time, including Carillion and Sovah, to try to find an operator for the building. “We had healthcare operators who were willing to come in, but we still had that problem with VCC,” he said.
Stanley said every time he and others would find a healthcare provider, they faced the same stumbling block, and eventually, “it kind of went by the wayside. There wasn’t much we could do after that, but we never gave in, we never gave up,” he said.
Once Williams was elected, Stanley said Williams met with a potential buyer, “and he asked me to come down to a meeting and we talked with them.” Stanley said representatives from the Hospital Association also were present at the meeting.
Before that, VCC called Stanley telling them they had a potential buyer for the hospital and asked if he would endorse it. “They told me what it was—a drug rehab center.” Stanley said he refused to endorse it, maintaining that the building needed to be a hospital.
“I guess that kind of fell through, Wren finds a buyer, and both Wren and I were very adamant that it had to be a hospital,” and the company agreed, he said.
Stanley said he, Williams, and representatives from the Hospital Association came up with legislative language to help expedite the time period needed for accreditation, essentially “breaking down all the regulatory roadblocks so we can have this happen very quickly.” That language was ultimately attached to Williams’ previously-introduced bill regarding the hospital, which was approved.
While Stanley said he does not know what the timeline might be moving forward, “Wren’s efforts in working with the Hospital Association to get that language in probably cuts it by two-thirds. So, I think once they make the commitment, the equipment is brought in, they refurbish the building, I would love to see it (open) by the end of this year,” he said.
Clyde DeLoach, chairman of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors and of the Blue Ridge District, said the board is actively supporting William’s effort to reopen the county’s hospital.
Even before Williams’ bill passed, the board was working and talking about reopening the hospital. “The effort has never stopped,” he said.
He said Williams’ bill fixed the issue of reimbursement and other issues, and “I think this will open it up to more people and more organizations. It’s wonderful.”
Brandon Simmons, of the Dan River District, said he does not know how the board can support the hospital effort.
“We really don’t have any money to support it. I mean, we can give it all the support we can as a board, but I’m not sure of all the ways that will be,” he said.
Much of the board’s support will be in communicating with Williams and communicating with companies that are interested in opening the hospital, Simmons said.
“I really don’t know at this point besides the board and the EDA working with Wren and what companies may want to come in and may have an interest in opening a hospital. You really don’t know for sure until that happens in what all types of support we can give or need to give,” he said.
Simmons said he is grateful for the work Williams has been doing and what he has accomplished thus far in helping Patrick County with having a hospital again.
Denise Stirewalt, of the Peter’s Creek District, said the board continues to work with the EDA and the localities representatives in finding a provider for the hospital. “Mr. Williams’ bill, that was recently by the Governor is crucial in attracting a provider. We certainly appreciate his continued efforts and support,” she said.
Doug Perry, of the Smith River District, said he believes the ability to be flexible will be the best way the board can help with the hospital endeavor.
“A wide brush stroke is to get somebody that’s willing to look at it and talk with them and see what their needs are and just be open to working with someone,” he said.
Perry said the new legislation will help attract organizations to look at the property. “It will help make it more attractive so somebody’s not having to start from the ground floor. Somebody could come in and we already have those things established, and just like Wren said it will cut down a lot of red tape for us or” for interested parties, he said.
While he does not know what the board can do, Clayton Kendrick, of the Mayo River District, said it will do everything it can to help. “I think we should. I don’t want to dish out a pile of money, but any way we can help them on stuff like permits and stuff like that, we need to do it,” he said.
Kendrick said he is glad Williams got the bill through. “That’s one holdup with the hospital before. You know, that’s the first thing that turned them off when they were talking about opening it back up was because of those licenses that had expired. So, he (Williams) did good,” he said.
While he will not work at the hospital, Dr. Richard Cole said he will support, cooperate and refer patients there.
“I’m 67 now, and I’m too old and too spent to be working long hours in the emergency room and late hours in the hospital. I’ll do what I can within reason to support the hospital,” he said.
While Foresight plans to reopen the emergency room, Cole said he has no plans to close the Patrick County Urgent Care. “I think there’s still room for urgent care. We may see more scheduled patients or out-patient type services, but we could adjust the scope of practice of our urgent care,” he said.
With the new hospital, Cole thinks the community needs to be supportive, use the hospital, and “be tolerant if there are some bumps along the way.”
Cole added that he believes Williams performed some magic with the hospital bill. Garnering support as a junior legislator is “pretty impressive,” he said.
Del. Wren Williams, R-Stuart, announced that his HB 1305 was signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin at the Patrick County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Foresight HS Holdings – Blue Ridge, LLC confirmed it will purchase Patrick County’s hospital.