Officials with the Foresight Hospital and Health System in Stuart recently met with personnel from local fire departments, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), rescue squads, and other medical personnel to discuss the needs of Patrick County.
Dr. Sameer Suhail, president and CEO of Foresight Health and the new owner of the hospital in Stuart, said he sought local input because he wants to understand the needs of the community.
“My priority is to give the community the opportunity to actually build this hospital with us. I have the resources to bring anybody else, but why not benefit the community that’s going to be with you and partner up with you,” he said.
Suhail said he first discovered Patrick County when he looked at Virginia. After asking questions about the facility, he discovered it had been closed for about five years.
During this time, one of his employees said someone interested in reopening the facility was actually in talks with his company.
After completing a feasibility study about reopening the Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick County, Suhail started engaging with State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta and Del. Wren Williams, R-Stuart.
“We walked into a meeting, there’s four of us,” and around “30 of them and I’m laying it out, and every single person in that room was very supportive. They really wanted to help the community. Their concern was to help this community,” he said.
Suhail said he was attracted to the project because the hospital had existed for 50 to 60 years and was depleted.
“It’s been closed for five years, and there was no one to take that type of risk to go in there to make a difference for the community,” he said.
When he started medical school, Suhail said he was training in underserved communities. “I would do my rotations in ERs (Emergency Rooms) where gunshots would come in every couple of hours. Very bad, really, really bad areas in Chicago,” he said.
Suhail said he started to look at the way hospitals operated and the processes, and found it to be “very inefficient. The quality of healthcare was not proper. People had to travel from these communities to inner Chicago to get quality service. So, I said ‘why isn’t anyone investing in these hospitals? What is the reason?’”
Suhail said he discovered that high Medicaid, no returns, and the risks and responsibilities prevented most from investing.
“So, I took that approach, and I’ve seen that there could be an opportunity. Whether, initially from a young age I’m a risky businessman, but at the end of the day I’m a very calculated person,” he said. “Throughout my life, for the past 15 to 16 years, I’ve served communities and hospitals that are underserved. I’ve had the opportunity to come to communities where they don’t have MRI services,” he added.
Chief Operating Officer (COO) and General Counsel Joseph Hylak-Reinholtz said he encountered a similar issue to what local residents experience with the need for a critical access hospital with his mother in rural Wisconsin. “Recently my mom had gone bowling, and she woke up the next morning and she couldn’t walk. She had super severe back problems,” he said.
Hylak-Reinholtz said his mother was transported to a critical access hospital where it was determined that she had spinal issues before transferring her to Milwaukee, where it was determined that she had spine cancer.
“The ability to get her to a close facility, stabilize her in that position, and then property transport her to a healthcare facility that had, I think, saved her walking for sure,” he said.
Patrick County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Eric O’Connell said he believes the county’s lack of healthcare has resulted in many deaths because some residents do not feel comfortable outside of their homes.
“You coming to this area will provide a level of comfort because it is home for them,” he told Suhail.
O’Connell said the county desperately needs an ER to help with the emergency situations that occur. Minutes before the meeting started, he said a helicopter landed in response to a stabbing that occurred in Stuart. “That individual was transported, not to the Stuart ER, but to Roanoke or Baptist, and we hope that individual lives,” he said.
O’Connell said he guaranteed that if that person was transported from East Blue Ridge Street to the hospital a quarter mile down the road, there was a greater chance of survival. If that person dies from the injury, “this hospital not being here could be a very, very linked cause to that” death, he said.
He also believes a not-so obvious need, which is also a crisis in Virginia, is mental health.
“The resources that are depleting our budget as well as our law enforcement public safety measures with temporary detention orders (TDOs) and emergency custody orders (ECOs),” O’Connell said, and added the situation hinders the ability of law enforcement officers to do their jobs because the TDOs and ECOs depletes the staff.
“We have to stay with these people, sometimes for a week. Now, it’s bad enough staying with us, but it’s terrible when we have to do it in Roanoke, or Martinsville and it’s very difficult for us,” he said.
O’Connell said as soon as the hospital ER doors open, he could guarantee that a patient with a TDO status would arrive.
“We desperately need your services local, because your facility and our facility are half-a-mile, and we could walk them there if we had to,” he said.
Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith said the county encompasses many rural communities, and the jail houses an average daily population of 100-120 inmates. “Most rural communities have regional jails that they depend on, which are usually in areas where they have close access to a hospital. We do not,” he said.
Smith said he could not state the number of close calls his office has had. “It’s inevitable that something is going to happen with the unfortunate death of an inmate, which I hope never happens, but it’s almost inevitable when you don’t have healthcare close by,” he said.
Terry Mills, Piedmont Community Services (PCS) employee and Stuart Fire Department EMS lieutenant, said the mental health beds Foresight plans to have will be vital in the community.
Joanne Spangler, of JEB Stuart Rescue Squad, said she believes volunteer rates have decreased in part because of the long rides on transport.
“Hopefully, some of our volunteers will come back because doing a call in 30 minutes or 45 minutes versus three or four hours is huge on somebody’s time, especially as a volunteer. That’s half a day’s work,” she said.
Town of Stuart Manager Bryce Simmons asked Suhail and Hylak-Reinholtz about the key positions that would be open to Patrick County High School (PCHS) students. “We’ve got kids in high school that are interested in the healthcare field. What sort of positions would they be able to have both immediately and after going to higher education?”
Hylak-Reinholtz said Foresight has recently met with Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC) “and talked about partnering with ways to expand the nursing, the LPN and RN program,” he said.
Hylak-Reinholtz said Foresight could partner with Patrick County High School (PCHS) to get students in the door immediately as CNAs, “and then maybe transition them over to the community college program where they become LPNs or an RNs. We are looking for ways to work with the local colleges and other education institutions to feed young kids into the medical profession,” he said, adding Foresight also does this with its medical education programs it has done throughout the country and Chicago.
“We see it in the long term that we’ve going to be vitally connected from the very front end at the high school CNA level all the way through medical education to residency programs, and we hope we can identify the right residents, who once they finish it want to stay here,” he said.