The hospital in Patrick County. Photo courtesy of Addison Merryman.

The new health care provider that took over the property of the former Pioneer Community Hospital in Patrick County intends to open a critical access facility by the end of a year, bringing back emergency care to an area that currently offers no such services. Liam Gray, a spokesman for ​​Foresight HS Property Holdings – Blue Ridge LLC, on Friday confirmed the company’s plan, adding that no additional information was available at this time. 

Critical access hospitals are small facilities that give limited outpatient and inpatient hospital services to people in rural areas. They represent more than two-thirds of all rural hospitals and are vital for ensuring the health of communities that may not have access to larger facilities.

Clyde DeLoach. Courtesy of Patrick County Board of Supervisors.

“We’ve been trying to get a new hospital after we lost our last one, and this really sounds great. But we’re waiting and seeing, because we don’t want to get too excited until they have something concrete,” Clyde DeLoach, the chairman of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, said in a phone interview Friday.

Patrick County residents have been without local emergency medical care since September 2017, when Mississippi-based Pioneer Health Services closed its 25-bed hospital in Stuart, more than a year after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Since, rescue squads have been forced to transport patients to either Martinsville or Mt. Airy, North Carolina. “I’m in the middle of Stuart, and if I had a heart attack, it would take a minimum of 45 minutes to get me somewhere to be treated,” DeLoach said. 

Sameer Suhail, Courtesy of Suhail.

Foresight, a Chicago-based company founded in February by entrepreneur Sameer Suhail, who serves as its president and CEO, purchased the 10-acre property at 18688 Jeb Stuart Highway on April 7 from Virginia Community Capital, the hospital’s creditor, for $2.1 million. Suhail told Cardinal News last month that he acquired the hospital as “a cash purchase.”

The property’s assessed value according to the deed of the sale filed at the Patrick County Circuit Court is more than $4.5 million, but DeLoach said that this number isn’t accurate.  “The last owners stripped away a lot of the equipment and it sat there for these years. It was run down and it’ll take some real renovation, although parts of it are in decent condition,” he said.

Less than a week after the purchase, Suhail and members of his team traveled to Patrick County for a meet-and-greet with community leaders. “They asked us what we most wanted to see, and I said we desperately needed some kind of emergency room,” DeLoach said, adding that at no point Foresight asked the county to support the project financially. 

But at the time of the meeting, those in attendance were unaware that back home in Chicago Suhail is connected to conduct that is the focus of several legal probes, DeLoach said. According to a report by the Chicago based nonprofit news platform Block Club and the Better Government Association from April of last year, Suhail owns at least four companies connected with Chicago’s Loretto Hospital, which has been at the center of several controversies – including a vaccination scandal – and an investigation by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The report revealed millions of dollars in insider contracts and raised questions about oversight by the hospital’s board. Suhail has denied any wrongdoing. 

“I first heard about it through the news and then it spread on Facebook and by emails,” DeLoach said, adding that he has decided to take a wait-and-see attitude. “I don’t know anything about the scandal, so right now we are taking them at their word, because we have no stake in this project. I’d be more nervous if we had our money in it,” DeLoach said.

Megan Schnabel contributed to this report.

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.