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Freeman is Free Bird

Funding step toward new hospital

By Michael Caldwell

The Ironton Tribune

Plans to build a new hospital in Lawrence County took a big step forward this week, but the project is not quite as close to reality as initial reports may have indicated.

State Sen. John Carey announced Thursday that House Bill 562 included $500,000 toward the eventual relocation and upgrade of the more than 140-year-old Dennis J. Boll Group and Shelter Home. Carey said in a prepared statement that the money would ensure that the youth facility is able to continue serving troubled youth in the area, but could also make way for St. Mary’s Medical Center to re-establish a full-service hospital in the county.

“This project is a win-win for all involved,” Carey said. “Not only will the Lawrence County Youth Facility be able to continue its valuable work, but its relocation will make way for a much-need hospital in the area, providing greater access to health care for residents of Lawrence County, bringing jobs to the surrounding community and helping further the ongoing community revitalization efforts in Ironton.”

Carey estimated that a new hospital would to create as many as 300 full-time jobs.

But Doug Korstanje, director of marketing and community relations for the Huntington, W.Va., health care provider, cautioned that it is still way too soon to raise expectations and talk about definitive plans.

“St. Mary’s Medical Center wants to thank the entire Lawrence County legislative delegation for securing this funding,” Korstanje said. “This allocation is just one of many steps needed to determine the feasibility of building a new medical facility in Lawrence County. St. Mary’s is pleased to be a part of this planning process.”

In November, officials announced the formation of the corporation, Lawrence County’s Healthcare Future LLC, a partnership between St. Mary’s, the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, a group of physicians and business leaders.

“The focus was on determining what can be done to improve the delivery of health care in Lawrence County,” Korstanje said. “The LLC is one step. Securing of this funding is another.”

Regardless, the state funding will help address the problem of the aging youth home.

“For several years, we have looked at the group home as old and outdated facility. The capitol budget may provide some opportunities for funds to relocate the facility,” said county commissioner Jason Stephens. “We need a group him regardless of what would go in at that location.”

In January, Brett Looney, the group home director, and Lawrence County Juvenile Court Judge David Payne informed commissioners the group home was at risk of losing its certification for some state funding unless improvements are made.

In addition, the capital budget bill provides nearly $800,000 for renovations and improvements at Ohio University’s Southern Campus.

Included among these projects are basic renovations, campus entry and grounds improvements, renovation planning for the academic building laboratory and classroom, as well as upgrades to the Proctorville Center.