The recent unexpected announcement of the closure of Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital scheduled for the end of September generated a widespread mixture of powerful emotions.
The implication and impact of the closure is also widespread across the social and economical landscape of the area. The sudden evaporation of the estimated 1,000 jobs on a cold January morning catapulted each person behind that number — each face behind the statistic — into a personal crisis.
The day after employees, who were given no warning, and the general public learned of the closing, St. Mary’s Medical Center and Cabell Huntington Hospital hosted a job fair at Bridges Church in Russell.
“We heard the news of Our Lady of Bellefonte closing, and we wanted to do something for this community,” said Alrena Labus, St Mary’s Employment Recruiting Coordinator. Labus and Sara James, her counterpart from Cabell Huntington, pooled resources in an attempt to help the OLBH employees plan for a future beyond the closure. More than one applicant at the job fair, Labus said, had tears in their eyes.
“Several of our current employees are from this area,” Labus said. “And we just wanted to reach out to help in any way we could.”
Labus said there are several open positions at the moment, but she encouraged people to apply for positions and get their applications and resumes on file to be ready for future job openings.
The event yielded large stacks of applications, but both hospital representatives urged anyone who could not make it to the job fair to apply online at the hospital websites. And both Labus and James said OLBH employees should feel free to contact them as well.
“It’s very tragic when so many people are forced to look for another job on such a short notice,” Labus said. “We have had so many people come in and they are just so devastated they don’t know what to ask. We are trying to help them start the process.”
The support of other area hospitals is appreciated by OLBH employees, however they do realize that filling out an application or submitting a resume isn’t a guarantee of another job.
Referral liaison Lynette Crisp currently works at OLBH doing internal and external patient referrals for treatment. Crisp said the news of the hospital closure could potentially mean a relocation for many. She said this situation, combined with other factors such as the AK Steel closure, is a devastating blow to area economics.
“It’s going to mean long drives for some and relocations for others,” Crisp said.
Crisp said none of OLBH’s employees expected the closure.
“It came as a shock for all of us,” she said. “We were at a meeting this morning, and they still didn’t give us any details. “
Although Sept. 30 is the tentative date Bellefonte Hospital will close its doors, it doesn’t mean everyone will keep their jobs until then, Crisp said.
“That’s not across the board. It will vary as providers take other positions and leave,” Crisp said. She said as those departures happen, there will be a trickling effect, and as each department sees a reduction in revenue, those employees in those departments might lose their jobs earlier than the stated deadline implies. “They said in the meeting this morning if they felt our service department was coming to a close they would let us know.”
Crisp and others said they appreciated what St. Mary’s and Cabell Huntington Hospital were trying to do.
“They have made themselves available to us, and helped us learn how to apply,” Crisp said.
The efforts of St. Mary’s and Cabell Huntington Hospital were not the only attempt to answer the Bellefonte Hospital closure. Greenup County Judge-Executive Robert Carpenter said he is doing everything in his power to uncover the reasons behind the closure and find out what, if any, steps can be taken to stop it.
“I got the news about the closure on my way to a FIVCO meeting,” Carpenter said. “But that wasn’t even by the hospital; it was from another individual.”
Carpenter said after a transportation meeting there were a few interested parties who got together to discuss it. “We had (Ashland Alliance President) Tim Gibbs come in and tell us what he had found out. And right now I’m in negotiation and (local attorney) Mike Wilson and I are trying to get to see the CEO of the hospital.”
“We’d like to know why weren’t notified,” Carpenter said. “I don’t know what we could have done, but we would have attempted to do something.”
Along those lines, Carpenter (with Rep. Danny Bentley) is trying get a meeting set up with Gov. Andy Beshear.
Carpenter said he learned from Gibbs that a possible reason for the closure was that Bellefonte served a large number of individuals on Medicare, and that this resulted in a habitual loss of earnings.
“They said they were on a corporate ladder now,” Carpenter said. “And corporate saw they were losing money and not expected to make that money back.”
Carpenter said right now he and others are brainstorming, and he is curious about the potential of buying out Bellefonte Hospital, though it is too early to know if that is feasible or even possible.
Carpenter said he plans to meet with people who are connected to the closure, and hopefully have a meeting of all local government heads and share what information that can be collected. “And from that point we have to find out where we can go from here.”
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