A comment made by the vice-chairman of Patrick County’s Economic Development Authority Board has prompted two supervisors to call for the county to take over the effort to reopen the local hospital.
The hospital closed in September 2017, and the county later tasked the EDA and its board with working to reopen the hospital.
However, Lock Boyce, of the Mayo River District, said he was “hit over the head” with a quote in an Associated Press (AP) story published in the Sept. 20 edition of the New York Times.
In the story titled “After Rural Hospital’s Closure, County Seeks Other Options,” the AP reported that Bill Clark, vice chairman of the EDA board, said “At this time, there is no active discussion around reopening the hospital. … That’s not to say it could never reopen. But the sun, the stars and the moon would have to align pretty closely to get it reopened.”
“Whatever their (EDA’s) efforts were, they’ve given up,” Boyce said. “Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors” to reopen the hospital. “I am upset.”
His raised voice was often heard in the hallway during the closed session portion of the Sept. 23 supervisor meeting. While he declined to discuss specifics of the closed session meeting, Boyce said he commented about the AP story.
“Reopening that hospital should be our Number 1 priority, and it should be the priority for the county government, too. It is key to the potential that we have,” he said, adding the county attracts retirees, who move, build homes and pay taxes here. The influx also will help lure new businesses and restaurants to the county, he added.
Karl Weiss, vice chairman of the supervisors, said he agreed with Boyce “100 percent, if we’re not going to go with (pursue) it the way it is.”
Noting that he recently read a story that “said rural hospitals are just dwindling away and that the government would have to step in and help them,” Weiss said “I think that we need to form a committee and get back on track with the hospital.”
Crystal Harris, of the Smith River District, declined to comment until further reviewing the situation.
“I don’t know yet. I’ve got to have more information,” Rickie Fulcher, chairman, said.
Jane Fulk, of the Dan River District, said she is “thinking about that and evaluating it. I haven’t made a decision about that yet.”
Boyce said the county must “have quality healthcare.” He said he feels that the county should own the land and the hospital building. It could then find an operator to who would rent and run the facility that was financially stable when it closed, he said.
Then if the tenant left, “we don’t lose everything and wind up in this mess we’ve been in for the last two years. I happen to know there are pathways to doing that” that require sensitive negotiations, Boyce said.
The hospital property is currently owned by Virginia Community Capital (VCC). It is for sale for $5 million.
“I was told to stay out of it,” Boyce said, and noted there are people in the community who are capable of brokering a deal to reopen the facility. He declined to identify anyone by name, however, “I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want the hospital to be open here.”
A majority of the remote places he has lived or visited in the past have a hospital, Boyce said.
“It is unacceptable that in Patrick County in 2019, we have no hospital. We need to rally around and get it open,” he said. “… I don’t think the situation is hopeless. It’s not good, but that hospital needs to be open.”
The issue was tabled until the October 7 meeting, Boyce said.