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Patrick County hospital struggles to reopen

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There is no waning in the commitment to reopening Patrick County’s only hospital, but ongoing struggles are testing the resolve of those seeking to do so.

In August, Foresight Health planned for a grand reopening this month of the shuttered Pioneer Community Hospital in Patrick County and it was announced that Jeanette Filpi, the CEO of the hospital when it closed, would be the new director of development and in charge of seeing to the hospital’s reopening.

“I know a lot of people are looking for progress,” Filpi told the Patrick County Board of Supervisors at a regular meeting Monday night. “Unfortunately, from the street not a lot can be seen.”

Although the company has received critical approval from the state and substantial progress has been made on the project, Filpi said, the company has been plagued with issues involved in the internal renovations and they’ve had difficulty employing key personnel to run the hospital.

“We underestimated what is needed to get the building ready to be a hospital again,” Filpi said.

Owners from the parent company in Chicago have planned to visit with key county officials between Feb. 15-17 and some additional meetings will be planned with stakeholders in the community, Filpi said.

Filpi did not venture a guess as to when the hospital might be ready to open.

Broadband

Patrick County Economic Development Director Sean Adkins said the broadband project that will provide access to all homes and businesses in Patrick County is ahead of schedule.

“By the end of 2024 it will be online,” said Adkins. “I understand the frustration, but at this point right now all we can do is sit and wait. Everyone understands that this is a priority. It’s all a ‘green light’ and ready to go, but this is the quiet time.”

Adkins said in October he remarked that it would be his last update for the next 10 months or so.

“That’s where my expertise ends,” Adkins said. “In July the governor’s announcement said all of Patrick County would be provided with universal broadband by 2024.”

Officials with the project are expected to update the board, possibly as soon as next month or at least sometime during the spring, Adkins stated.

An unidentified man in the audience spoke up and said that Comcast had offered to provide him with internet service if he was willing to pay a $45,000 connection fee.

“Everybody in Patrick County lives far, far off the road,” the man said. “If the power goes out there’s no cell service and we have no way to make a phone call.”

Adkins said his technical expertise on the subject was “almost nil,” but there would be a map available soon to keep everyone updated on the progress of the project.

Blue Ridge District Supervisor Clyde DeLoach explained that the project would provide access to broadband to everyone, but not everyone is obligated to connect to it.

Rescue services

Board Chair Clayton Kendrick encouraged discussion at the end of the meeting regarding an issue that was not on the agenda related to rescue services.

A paid rescue worker had offered to volunteer services during his or her own time, but the request was not immediately approved because of the risk that a demand for overtime could possibly be made in the future.

“They have trouble all over the county to get enough people and if you have employees that are trained and they want to run a call, I don’t completely see where this has anything to do with it,” said Kendrick.

“If someone marks on and they are a volunteer, but they are also a paid service and they say ‘I ran this call and I want to get paid’ and we say ‘you ran it as a volunteer’ It gets really, really gray,” said County Attorney Mark Popovich. “There is a nasty soup of decisions out there.”

Popovich said the need was great enough in some localities that they were willing to run the risk, limited by the employees signing an agreement preventing the person from seeking pay for work he or she performed as a volunteer.

“I’d love to see everyone make what they can make,” said DeLoach. “But if it’s risky, I’m not in favor of it.”

“So we are not going to be able to use these people because of a conflict of interest policy?” asked Kendrick. “I thought they all were supposed to be one and not competing with one another. If they are available off-duty and you can get them and don’t, then that could cost a life.”

The matter was tabled until Popovich researches the matter and is prepared to come back to the Board with a recommendation.

In other matters, the board:

  • Learned the Department of Labor recently inspected the Patrick County Maintenance Department and Transfer Station and the Stuart town manager donated a 1994 Ford bucket truck to Patrick County.
  • Learned that the Patrick County High School football team will need new helmets and equipment for next season.
  • Heard concerns from the public regarding outdated information on the county’s website and Facebook page and solar farm regulation including a suggestion that solar farms be banned from the county altogether.
  • Appointed Ronald Lester to represent the Smith River District on the Department of Social Services board.
  • Awarded a waste disposal contract to Republic Services.
  • Allocated up to $10,000 to be spent toward the study of a landfill and all associated duties.

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-591-7543. Follow him @billdwyatt.

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