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Proposed care center gets $665K boost

IRONTON — A proposed primary health care center to be built near the interchange of U.S. 52 and State Route 141 got a $665,000 shot in the arm towards construction on Monday.

The money, allocated in the form of a grant through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to address urgent health care facility and equipment needs along with the construction, repair and renovation of health center sites.

The grant was announced by U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson. It was part of nearly $3 million in stimulus grant monies Wilson’s 6th district received in this package.

“This is great news for Ohio’s Sixth District,” Wilson said. “These funds will help ensure that our community health centers can continue to offer their important services efficiently and effectively.”

Announced with much fanfare last September, the proposed primary care center is a partnership between St. Mary’s Medical Center and the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization. The facility is scheduled to be built in several stages, with the intended goal of becoming an acute care center and maybe one day a hospital.

The grant monies allocated Monday will be used in the Phase I stage of construction to build a pediatric program at the center, D.R. Gossett, executive director of the CAO said Tuesday.

“This is a golden opportunity to grow our services,” Gossett said.

Currently, St. Mary’s and the CAO partner on four clinics within Lawrence County with locations in Ironton, Coal Grove, South Point and Chesapeake. Lawrence County has been without a hospital or acute care center since 2001 when River Valley Hospital closed.

The stimulus money awarded to the CAO could not come at a better time.

Since its announcement last fall, the project has faced a variety of hurdles including questions about the need for an acute care center in the county, Environmental Protection Agency concerns regarding a creek that runs through the proposed site, expanded federal rules regarding physician-owned clinics and the loss of the project’s main capital source.

Despite the recent tribulations surrounding the project, St. Mary’s Medical Center is still on board, explained Doug Korstanje, director of marketing and community relations at the hospital.

“Receiving this money is another positive step towards seeing the project happen,” Korstanje said.

Korstanje did confirm that parties involved in the project are still looking “at every avenue” to secure financing for the project. At their 2008 announcement, officials estimated Phase I could range anywhere from $18 to $20 million.

Both Gossett and Korstanje said Tuesday that they hope the project breaks ground in the fall with Gossett even saying spring 2010. The center is scheduled to be built on the former Cooke’s Farm Center property.

Most of the property’s 18-acres have been secured through $2.1 million in land acquisition bonds approved and sold last October by Lawrence County Commissioners.