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Wellmont CEO talks about hospital closing

By Angela Yingling
Published On: Dec 24 2013 05:34:16 AM CST
Updated On: Sep 11 2013 09:46:50 PM CDT

After more than 70 years, a hospital in Southwest Virginia is closing its doors.

Wednesday morning Wellmont Health System announced it will close Lee Regional Medical Center on October 1.

Wellmont Health System CEO Denny DeNarvaez cited several reasons the rural hospital couldn't stay afloat. "We feel deeply for the community and for the employees, and we are going to try to do our very best to make sure that this is as painless as possible," adds DeNarvaez.

The health system says the Affordable Care Act, lack of physicians and low community use all factored into the decision to shut down the facility. "The combination really has been the perfect storm and Lee has been caught in the middle of that," adds DeNarvaez.

Tuesday, the day before the announcement came, only four patients were at the hospital, where up to 70 patients can be admitted.

We've learned Wellmont was on pace to lose $4 million dollars a year at the hospital. The decision to close the doors wasn't a quick move, but one the chairman of the board of directors says he saw coming since last June. "What seems like a sudden decision is really something that's been on the radar for all of the redesign for healthcare that we knew was coming down the pike," says Buddy Scott, Chairman of the Board of Directors.

So, what's next for the 140 hospital employees? Wellmont leaders say there are other openings within the system and they'll be providing assistance to help those out of work find new jobs.

We asked DeNarvaez what will be next for the building. She said the equipment will be removed and the building will be secured.

The future plans for the structure are still unknown.

Virginia Senator Bill Carrico (R-Grayson) and Virginia Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) released the following statements Wednesday on the closing of Lee Regional Hospital in Pennington Gap:

“I am very disappointed that Lee Regional Hospital has become the latest casualty of ObamaCare, according to Wellmont Health System.  For several weeks, Del. Kilgore and I have engaged in discussions with leaders from Wellmont to find ways to keep Lee Regional open in order to provide care for the citizens.  Unfortunately, this decision is a reflection of what many rural hospitals are facing due to the strains of the federal health care law.  We will pursue other healthcare options for the community, including nonprofit care providers, in an effort to solve this growing problem.  This is a major blow to the safety, security, and economic growth of Lee County, and it is disappointing that policies from the federal government are to blame.” – Sen. Bill Carrico

“This is very disappointing news to me and the citizens of Lee County.  Sen. Carrico and I will be aggressively looking at other hospital groups willing to locate to the county for the safety and healthcare of our citizens.  It is our sincere hope that Wellmont Health System will reconsider and in the coming days, we will be calling on state and federal leaders to examine nonprofit duties to provide healthcare to the region.  ObamaCare has begun what appears to be a wave of casualties in rural healthcare, and it has now struck our community, where we need quality healthcare options more than ever.” – Del. Terry Kilgore