The owners of Foresight Health Services, the new health care provider that took over the property of the former Pioneer Community Hospital in Patrick County this spring, said that they have received more than 100 job applications for the new critical access facility that is set to open in early 2023, including from several people who had worked at the hospital when it was shuttered in September 2017.
“About 65 or 70 of those applications were for nursing positions, and others are maintenance, kitchen staff and administrative roles,” said Joseph Hylak-Reinholtz, Foresight’s chief operations officer and general counsel. The company has previously said it would create between 200 and 300 new jobs.
Hylak-Reinholtz and Sameer Suhail, the founder, CEO and president of the Chicago-based company, returned to Patrick County on Monday to meet with community leaders and stakeholders and update them on their progress.
The tentative opening date for the new hospital has been pushed back to Jan. 31, about a month later than originally planned due to regulatory factors. Renovations on the property are set to begin in the coming weeks, after the company has submitted its Certificate of Public Need application by the Aug. 31 deadline.
Launched in 1973 by a federal mandate, the COPN is a program requiring health care providers seeking to open or expand a health care facility to receive approval from a regulatory body to prove that a community needs the services the facility would deliver. Its original purpose was to control cost and increase access to care. While the federal mandate was repealed in 1986, Virginia’s program remains.
Hylak-Reinholtz said in an interview with Cardinal News that Foresight plans to open its hospital in several phases, beginning with an emergency room with five staffed beds, a number that can be ramped up if necessary. “If it turns out that there is a dramatic influx of patients here, we’re prepared to move that from five to 10 as quickly as possible,” he said.
By next summer, the hospital plans to add a psychiatric program and, later, an outpatient oncology unit and infusion services. “That is something new that was never done here before by Pioneer,” Hylak-Reinholtz said. “I can see that rolling out by mid-2023.”
Founded by Suhail in February after he heard about the vacant property, Foresight Health purchased the 10-acre property on U.S. 58 on April 7 from Virginia Community Capital, the hospital’s creditor, for $2.1 million.
By the time it opens next year, the new hospital will be the first critical access facility in more than five years to serve Patrick County residents, who have been without local emergency medical care since Mississippi-based Pioneer Health Services closed its 25-bed hospital in Stuart in 2017, more than a year after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Hylak-Reinholtz brushed aside concerns that the new facility will be just a glorified urgent care center. “It’s a bona fide hospital,” he said, adding that under the federal designation of a critical access hospital, the total number of staffed beds would be capped at 25.
“Pioneer operated this as a critical access hospital, but we’re going to be offering different services. It’s meant to be a model that’s used in rural America, but we’re still weighing different factors on the scope between what level of pediatric and adolescent care we might do.”
Suhail said that Foresight will eventually seek to broaden its services to include other parts of Southwest and Southwest Virginia, providing dialysis and other infusion services.
“The dynamics of how my businesses work is I run a lot of service lines, and my network is pretty big,” Suhail said. “We’re not only talking about the structure of the building itself right now, but we are looking at acquiring other facilities nearby, and even adding to the facility. We have plenty of room, that’s a big possibility over the next two years that you will see additions and other service lines there.”
However, some of his networking has faced scrutiny back home in Chicago, after Suhail was connected to conduct that is the focus of several state and federal legal probes. Suhail owns at least four companies with ties to 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.
In his interview with Cardinal News, Suhail once again denied any wrongdoing. “I’d like to make something clear: I don’t run Loretto Hospital, I never did,” he said. “My service lines benefit the hospital, and there are track records to prove that. Any wrongdoing from other operators at the hospital obviously I don’t agree with. My service lines in Chicago and all of my businesses are legitimate.”
Suhail said that because at the moment his focus is entirely on Foresight and his plans for the new hospital, he vows to create an ethics committee that works for the community. “Even though this is a private hospital, I want the feedback from the community,” he said. “If there is a service line that just makes money but it doesn’t benefit the community, we don’t want it to exist at the end of the day.”
Suhail said that his company will host town hall meetings in the near future to seek input relating to the services needed most in Patrick County. “I’m not only coming in here with my team just to open a critical access facility, and we’re not vying to take a hospital and run it the way it was run before,” he said, adding that Foresight will work with local stakeholders to determine a level of care most beneficial to patients in rural Southwest Virginia.
“You have many hospitals that closed in rural areas in the last two years. This will definitely help the community and the community will benefit from it,” Suhail said. According to data from the Shepps Center at the University of North Carolina, which tracks hospital closures nationally and by state, 181 rural hospitals in the U.S. have shut down since 2005, and 138 since 2010. “It’s very depressing, and it’s very unfortunate,” Suhail said.
For Patrick County, this has meant that since the closure of Pioneer Community Hospital, rescue squads have been forced to take patients to either Martinsville or Mount Airy, North Carolina – which can take up to an hour – and eventually to Roanoke and to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which often prolongs their wait for treatment and also puts an additional strain on EMS services.
Not surprisingly, the community has welcomed the news of Foresight’s plans, said Sean Adkins, Patrick County’s director of economic development. “The community was almost in disbelief at first, but to say that they are behind it is an understatement,” he said. “They are excited, but also a little nervous, like everybody is, because they haven’t seen it happen in so many years. That’s why these meetings hit all the right spots.”
And Foresight’s strategy of seeking input from the community has helped, Adkins said.
“Foresight didn’t have to take this approach, and it’s gone a long way in the court of public opinion and slowly building trust, and these meetings are going to continue to do that,” he said.