Public meeting held on PMH’s proposed renovation loan

Tim Walker
AMR Reporter

Pocahontas County Commission hosted a public meeting August 20 to inform the public about Pocahontas Memorial Hospital’s efforts in seeking funding to increase the size and services of that facility.

For well over a year, PMH has been exploring expansion and renovation as a way to increase the facility’s out-patient services. This summer, the county commission granted PMH authorization to apply for financial assistance from the Rural Housing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which would be in the form of a loan guarantee, although the actual loan would be made by a local bank under USDA terms and conditions. PMH’s USDA application required the submission of, and approval by the USDA of a financial feasibility study.

Twenty-five people attended Thursday night’s meeting, which was held in the Circuit Courtroom. The vast majority of the attendees were representatives from PMH, their financial advisers and architects. A few citizens also attended.

PMH CEO Mary Beth Barr started things off with a synopsis of the project. Barr provided a brief history of the origins and need for the project, which was to increase revenues by increasing out-patient services. Out- patient services make up 80% of the total revenue for the hospital. She said they realized that to add additional services, facility space needed to be renovated and additions needed to be built.

“This project does not touch anything on the in-patient side,” Barr said. “It covers all of our out-patient services. A new Rural Health Clinic space, and rehab space will be newly built and everything else inside the hospital will be renovated. We are looking at renovating our lab, our radiology, cardio-pulmonary, emergency department, and a small out-patient operating suite. And that pretty much covers the out-patient areas.”

The total project involves renovating 4,976 square feet of existing space and adding a 11,275 square foot addition. It will also include renovations to the occupational and physical therapy spaces.

Greg Gibbs, of the Accounting firm of Arnet, Carvis and Toothman, also spoke. He said that his firm did a financial feasibility study which, in their expert opinion, shows that the project is financially sound, and that the USDA likes the project’s feasibility, as well. Gibbs said that the feasibility study was based upon a 2.75% interest rate, but that rate has since been lowered to 2.25%, which, if locked in now, will make the numbers look even better.

County Commissioner Walt Helmick, who also represents the commission on the hospital board, added that the “commission will have a safety net in place,” which he defined as an “identified source of income” to protect PMH in a worse case scenario. Helmick said it is important to the county that PMH remains in good financial shape.

One citizen, Alice Arbuckle, of Hillsboro, had several questions about the project.

• Will the existing water and sewer systems on the site handle the project renovations and additions?

Helmick assured her that the WV Region 4 Planning and Development Council and the Health Department assure them that these will handle it.

• Arbuckle questioned the handling of extra radiological and medical waste that will result from the increased services.

Helmick said that those wastes are not disposed of locally now, but are all sent to Huntsville, North Carolina for incineration.

• She expressed concern about increased traffic at the entrance to PMH along U.S. 219.

Helmick said they would ask the WV Department of Highways to monitor the situation and consider lowered speed limits or installing a traffic signal at the entrance if needed.

• Arbuckle also asked why not wait to see what the 2020 Census tells us about population changes.

Helmick assured her there will be little change in the census population numbers.

Before the meeting ended, Mary Dawson asked PMH to help the Watoga Dark Skies Project by reducing the amount of exterior lighting added during this project.

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