Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital will close by Sept. 30, according to a press release from Bon Secours Health System.
Bon Secours announced Tuesday that it will be exiting acute and outpatient care in the Ashland and tri-state communities by the end of September 2020.
The hospital, its system-owned care sites and Bellefonte Physician Services, its physician network, will close as a result. Approximately 1,000 employees are affected. There are no immediate job cuts, according to OLBH.
“We take the responsibility that comes with this decision very seriously, and we do not go into it lightly,” said Jason Asic, OLBH’s interim president. “We commit to working closely with out associates to share timely and transparent information, especially as it relates to the transition of services and employment opportunities and career fairs. We’ll work diligently to ensure opportunities across the ministry are made available, and we will work closely with area employers to identify opportunities close to home. In addition, we are establishing partnerships across the Tri-State to help those who may want to explore a different career.”
Russell mayor Ron Simpson said he learned of the news on Tuesday morning from a hospital official who told him the market couldn’t support two hospitals.
“I’m sitting there thinking, I’m 67 and we’ve operated two hospitals here for a long time,” Simpson said. “It’s a blow in the gut. A lot of good people are going to be affected. It’s devastating news.”
According to the release, Bon Secours has been talking with hospitals and health systems to address the health care needs of the community with the ultimate goal of improved outcomes and cost-effective care. While robust efforts, according to the release, have been taken and have offered temporary benefit, they are not enough to effectively operate in an environment that has multiple acute care facilities competing for the same patients, providers and services.
Ashland Alliance President Tim Gibbs called Tuesday “a terrible day.”
“It’s like we take one step forward and three steps back,” Gibbs said. “But we have to try to pick ourselves up once again and dust ourselves off. We have to identify the opportunities here, and we have to do it now. Even with this gray cloud, there is opportunity.”
Christa Clevenger, a registered respiratory therapist, began her career on Feb. 11, 2001, at OLBH. She said Tuesday “is a very sad day for all of us,” but she offered an optimistic outlook.
“We are devastated, but we are strong, and we will get through this,” Clevenger said. “Many may feel as if we are falling, but I’m choosing to say that isn’t true. We are simply falling forward.”
This difficult decision, stated the release, follows a very deliberate and thorough discernment process conducted by the executive leadership team, the ministry’s board of directors and its public juridic person — the health care system’s sponsoring organization which oversees the system’s mission and ensures it is carried out according to Catholic principles.
The discernment process, according to the release, is designed to ensure that all decisions are made on the basis of the ministry’s mission, values and commitment to Catholic social teaching.
“While this transition is under way,” Asic said, “we will continue to serve our patients with compassion and dignity, and we remain focused on our founding congregations’ steadfast commitment to ensuring that compassionate care is available for each of our patients, communities and associates — especially in times of need. We are exploring additional ways that we can support our community’s needs going forward.”
Offered Clevenger: “To all of our patients, I’m truly sorry and I hope you find the health care you need and deserve. As for our employees, I’m choosing to keep my faith because God has a bigger plan for all of us. We just have to have faith in Him.”
Gibbs called the announcement “a huge blow.”
“So many people around here were born there or receive primary care there,” Gibbs said. “It’s been part of the fabric of this community for generations.”
Said Rep. Danny Bentley, of Russell: “The announcement that Bellefonte Hospital is closing is devastating news for our community. We have so many critical health care needs that are best met by a local facility. I served as a volunteer hospital board member for nine years under its previous ownership and I have seen first-hand the impact this facility makes on Greenup County. My greatest fear is that if we can’t find a way to prevent it from closing, we will never see it reopen.”
Simpson said the closure will have quite an impact on the city of Russell. He and his clerk did a rough estimate on Tuesday and determined the city stands to lose a minimum of $650,000 per year in payroll taxes. That’s out of about $2.45 million per year budgeted for payroll taxes. The payroll tax rate in Russell is 1.15%.
Simpson has already started calling local and state lawmakers, the Ashland Alliance and others to start work on marketing the hospital and other associated properties, including the Bellefonte Center and the Bellefonte Pavilion.
Bentley said he has called upon Gov. Andy Beshear’s office to work with him and local officials to do everything possible to keep the doors open.
Kristie Whitlatch, president and CEO of King’s Daughters Medical Center, released a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
“King’s Daughters and Our Lady of Bellefonte hospitals have served eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio for a very long time and we are deeply saddened by today’s news,” Whitlatch said. “Their employees, physicians and volunteers are our friends, relatives and neighbors. King’s Daughters will work with Our Lady of Bellefonte, its leadership and team to find any and all opportunities to keep jobs and health care local. We will provide more information related to both very soon. Making sure our community has access to quality healthcare services now and in the future is our No. 1 priority.”
According to the release, providers will work with their patients individually to ensure a smooth continuity of care. More information will be provided in the coming months. Care will continue as usual in the interim.
The 214-bed hospital was founded on July 14, 1953.
Bon Secours Ashland is part of Bon Secours Mercy Health, which is one of the 20 largest health systems in the country and the fifth-largest Catholic health system in the country.
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