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Lee County doctors concerned over possible hospital closure

By Kyle Benjamin, kbenjamin@wcyb.com
Published On: Sep 06 2013 05:16:56 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 06 2013 07:00:00 PM CDT

Doctors in Lee County, Virginia say a hospital is closing. Wellmont Health System says they are looking at all options.

LEE COUNTY, Va. -

In May, Wellmont Health System and Lee Regional Medical Center said they were exploring options to change the way they provide patient care.

Several doctors told News 5 Lee Regional has reduced the number of beds. One doctor said the doors are closing at the end of September.

When those possible changes were announced, interim hospital president Fred Pelle emphasized that the hospital would stay open. Lee Regional Medical Center has stayed open with the help of some doctors who run a practice by the hospital and call Lee county home.

"We volunteered to do coverage for three months , [providing] they would get us some help, " said Dr. Abdul-Latief Almatari. "Unfortunately, that didn't happen. We're told at the end of this month, there won't be a hospital any more."
 
Wellmont provided a statement regarding Lee Regional Medical Center to News 5:

"Wellmont Health System is considering all options pertaining to Lee Regional Medical Center. As we have shared previously, the hospital is dealing with a host of challenges including payment reform impacts, very low volumes and physician coverage issues.  These deliberations are obviously very important to the hospital and the community.  When decisions are made, Wellmont will clearly communicate them."

We talked to concerned people in Lee county and found the uncertainty has doctors, patients and even Sheriff Gary Parsons worried.

"My big concern is that people are going to die because this hospital is not here and they wont be able to reach the services they need in a timely manner," said Parsons.

Lee Regional Medical Center is the only option for many people in the area. The other facility is Lonesome Pine Hospital in Big Stone Gap in Wise County.

Dr. Scott Litton, who has lived in Lee County his entire life tells News 5 the trip to another county and hospital could mean the difference between life and death.

"If you take away that initial stabilization treatment that they could receive in an area closer to where they could live then that greatly impacts their quality of life and their ultimate chance of survival," said Dr. Litton.

Judy Musick, of Stone Creek, said her family needs a hospital close by.

[I've] got a son with a brain tumor. My husband has had heart surgery, he's on his second defibrilator. I've had a stroke. It just scares me to death . I don't know what people are supposed to do down here," said Musick.

Lee county resident Lana Napier said there are money concerns too.

"Nobody wants to travel several miles to go to another place. We don't have the money for that. We're a poor place and we want our hospital," said Napier.

The doctors who have helped keep the doors open at Lee Regional Medical Center don't want any changes.

"I would hope that we can come to some agreement to try and get this settled so we can provide care in the area," said Dr. Jill Couch.

"It doesn't matter to me who runs the hospital, we just need a hospital to provide care for the people in our community,"said Litton.

The doctors we spoke to say they will continue to practice with or without Lee Regional Medical Center open, and want to reassure patients the standard of care will not change.

Wellmont Health System has not set a timetable for making a decision regarding the future of Lee Regional Medical Center.