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Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Ballad Health leaders celebrate the reopening of Lee County Community Hospital on national stage

Several Ballad Health leaders journeyed to Chicago to present the story of reopening Lee County Community Hospital during the 2024 American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) Congress on Healthcare Leadership.

Shared with hundreds of national healthcare leaders, the presentation — given by Shannon Showalter, vice president and chief executive officer for Ballad Health operations in Lee, Wise and Dickenson counties; Mitch Kennedy, RN, associate vice president and administrator; and Stacey Ely, managing director of community and government affairs — shed light on the remarkable resilience of both the Lee County community and Ballad Health in reviving access to healthcare for rural communities.

“Sharing the story of Lee County Community Hospital is critical in spotlighting the transformative power of community-driven healthcare initiatives,” Showalter said. “It underscores the significance of proactive collaboration and innovation in addressing the unique challenges faced by rural healthcare systems. We hope that by sharing our experience, it will inspire others to embrace creative solutions and ensure equitable healthcare access for rural communities.”

More than 5,000 attendees, including members, speakers, volunteers and corporate partners, gathered at the 2024 American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) Congress on Healthcare Leadership in March at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The event served as a platform to address critical healthcare management issues and challenges, including healthcare reforms, service quality, disaster response and recovery, technological advancements and healthcare business models.

During the event, Showalter, Kennedy and Ely recounted the story of how Lee County Community Hospital, a modern 10-bed medical facility serving rural Pennington Gap and communities in Southwest Virginia and Southeast Kentucky, was reopened on July 1, 2021.

The trio explained how the original hospital in Lee County closed in 2013, following reimbursement cuts and a lack of consistent physician coverage. The Lee County community, however, refused to let their hospital remain closed.

With community backing, Virginia Del. Terry Kilgore passed legislation allowing the formation of the Lee County Hospital Authority, which acquired the building from its previous owners with help from the county. In January 2019, the Ballad Health Board of Directors voted unanimously to start negotiating with the Lee County Hospital Authority to reopen the rural Southwest Virginia hospital. Later that year, the hospital authority, in turn, voted unanimously to approve the definitive agreement with Ballad Health.

During the next two years, Ballad Health worked in conjunction with the 20-member hospital authority to ensure the new hospital met the expectations and needs of the community. The hospital underwent renovations and received an important Critical Access Hospital designation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"The reopening of Lee County Community Hospital is not just a testament to Ballad Health's commitment, but also a triumph of community resilience,” Ely said. “It showcases the power of collective determination in ensuring essential healthcare services for all.”

Kennedy emphasized the collaborative effort involved in the project, stating, “Our partnership with the Lee County community and the Lee County Hospital Authority exemplifies what can be achieved when healthcare providers and local stakeholders join forces for a common cause. It's a model worth replicating across rural America.”

Since opening, the hospital's emergency room volume has seen an average of 35 patients per day, and Lee County Community is Ballad Health’s fourth critical access hospital, joining Johnson County Community Hospital in Mountain City, Tennessee; Dickenson Community Hospital in Clintwood, Virginia; and Hancock County Hospital in Sneedville, Tennessee. To obtain the Critical Access Hospital designation, Lee County Community meets all the necessary conditions, including:

  • Have 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds
  • Be more than a 35-mile drive from another hospital or be more than a 15-mile drive from another hospital in an area with mountain terrain or only secondary roads
  • Maintain an annual average length of stay of 96 hours or less for acute care patients
  • Provide 24/7 emergency care services
  • Prove community need by admitting 10 total patients

The hospital is a crucial access point for people in rural Southwest Virginia and Southeast Kentucky to receive emergency, urgent and primary care, in addition to outpatient services like lab, radiology and respiratory care. Furthermore, as part of Ballad Health, it is also an essential piece of regionwide collaborative initiatives such as the Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network and the Ballad Health Trauma Network, which align hospitals, experts and resources to ensure a cohesive system of well-being that impacts people throughout the Appalachian Highlands.