Lee County sees first stage to hospital reopening

Mike Still • Oct 9, 2019 at 8:52 AM

PENNINGTON GAP — Residents will see a tangible step toward a reopened Lee County Hospital on Wednesday morning.

Ballad Health officials gave a tour to reporters Tuesday of the new Urgent Care facility in the Lee County Hospital building, even as the parking lot was more than half full with patients for two doctors offices operating in the same wing.

Ballad Regional Manager Natasha Kyker was handling last-minute supply deliveries as she explained the new facility’s role in Ballad’s effort to bring back an operating hospital in 2020.

“We’re here to support primary care physicians, not to replace them,” Kyker said of the Urgent Care facility, which opens Wednesday at 8 a.m.

Kyker, who is Ballad’s regional manager for Urgent Care sites in Norton, Gray, Rogersville and Pennington Gap, said the facility is not an emergency room but can offer care for injuries and less serious medical emergencies. The site will have a full-time physician on duty along with a registered nurse, X-ray technician and front desk staffer seven days a week.

Urgent Care has four examination rooms and two treatment rooms, Kyker said, and patients suffering a range of ailments from stomach pains to sprains can be treated on site.

“If you’ve been fishing and get hooked, we can handle that,” Kyker told members of Tuesday’s press tour.

Depending on patient loads, up to six part-time staff are on call as needed, Kyker said. Physicians assigned to Urgent Care all have emergency room training, she said. The site has an X-ray unit and two private practices in the building can order patient X-rays there as well.

Basic lab work — blood counts and blood sugar levels — can be done on site too, Kyker said.

While the site is not as fully equipped as an emergency room, Kyker said the staff can stabilize patients with serious injuries until they can be sent to a hospital in the Tri-Cities or Wise County.

“We recommend that patients with serious injuries or chest pains try to get to a hospital emergency room,” Kyker said. “We’re not an emergency room, but we are an access point.”

Ballad Community and Governmental Relations Director Stacey Ely said that Urgent Care gives area residents an access point for care without having to travel to an emergency room farther away from the county or calling an ambulance for a minor ailment.

“This can take the load off emergency medical service crews who may be out of service and not available for serious cases,” Ely said.

Ballad Vice President and Consultant Monty McLaurin said the Urgent Care facility is also a start for Ballad beginning a ripple effect for the local economy with new hires and impacts such as more patient prescriptions being filled locally.

Kyker said Urgent Care functions eventually will fold into Lee County Hospital after a planned fall 2020 reopening.

McLaurin said the application for reopening Lee County as a critical care hospital was sent Tuesday to the Virginia Department of Health for review and to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services for approval. He said he hoped to see approval by January, with a final detailed review completed in time to start construction bidding and begin construction by early spring.

McLaurin said earlier Ballad projections for about $10 million in capital spending on the reopening are still on target. Plans call for 10 beds, including two critical care beds, and the projected maximum patient stay would be 96 hours before discharge or transfer to a larger hospital or long-term care facility.

“We want to hire an administrator as soon as we can,” McLaurin said of hiring priorities for the hospital. “We want someone out there who gets out there and becomes part of the community. This hospital’s success depends on quality and on the community.”

Urgent Care opens Wednesday, and hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.