Patrick County’s economic development leader excited by hospital plans

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 6:03 PM EDT
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STUART, Va. (WDBJ) - The Economic Development Director of Patrick County said he is blown away by plans to bring back the county’s old hospital.

Sean Adkins, who has been on the job about seven months, traveled to Chicago two weeks ago to visit with the team of people working to restore the hospital’s services.

As WDBJ7 first reported in April, a company called Foresight HS Property Holdings - Blue Ridge, LLC bought the property. The deed to the property was previously held by Patrick County Real Estate, LLC. The hospital has been closed since 2017, after the previous owner filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

Patrick County Administrator Geri Hazelwood told WDBJ7 in an email in April that she was very excited about the new owner and that she looked forward to hearing more about what plans they have for Patrick County.

Hazelwood added the introduction of HB 1305 by Delegate Wren Williams (R-9), and its subsequent signing into law by Governor Glenn Youngkin, made the building’s purchase attractive for new owners.

That legislation allows the hospital to reopen without having to apply for new certificates of need.

“The COP [Certificate of Public Need] and licensing process in Virginia takes, you know, many months, even years,” said Williams to WDBJ7 in an interview. “There was a NICU center up in Salem that took several years to get approval. So if we didn’t have my legislation, then it would take a provider much longer to get up and running and therefore profitable.”

WDBJ7 had a hard time finding contact information about the new owners online. Delegate Williams said he talks often with the new owners and helped to get us in touch.

Dr. Sameer Suhail told WDBJ7 he is 100% committed to getting the hospital back up and running, and intends to bring the emergency department back online within a year.

“Me as a person in general, I love challenges and I like to make a difference,” he told us over Zoom, emphasizing he was focused on supporting underserved communities.

Adkins called the hospital’s purchase the best news to come out of Patrick County in many years. He said he first learned of Foresight’s interest in the building in February of this year and worked hard to keep it under wraps until the deed was officially handed over.

He said while in Chicago he learned Foresight has planned its approach to the hospital in phases, making the emergency department phase number one.

“It’s worked out as really in the best case scenario with a motivated and capable group,” said Adkins.

As to the group’s ambitious timeline, Adkins thinks it’s possible, thanks to Foresight’s background and Williams’ legislation.

“Outside of the property aspect of this, the licensure side of this deal was always going to be the biggest hurdle,” he said. “So for that to have been addressed by that bill from Delegate Williams is why this - I believe we can have it open by the end of the year, the first phase. It won’t be the full hospital yet, but the emergency room I am confident that it can be open by the end of the year.”

Dr. Suhail said he has about 15 years of experience in health care and owns multiple businesses, some of which appear to have come under scrutiny in recent years.

According to a 2021 report by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago’s Loretto hospital and its former leadership were under investigation for improper COVID vaccinations. That scrutiny also showed ties between the now-resigned CFO, Dr. Anosh Ahmed, and Suhail, who were business partners. Reporting by the Tribune, and other publications, showed the hospital increased the number of contracts it had with Suhail when Dr. Ahmed took over. Loretto contracted with four companies tied to Suhail, three of which were Loretto’s highest paid independent contractors.

“You know, look, there is no legal action that was taken or anything that was unethical from my businesses,” said Dr. Suhail when asked about the reports. “The investigation was more towards the hospital itself. I do definitely condemn if there’s any wrongdoing. But I was not involved, nor any of my businesses were involved, in any of these relationships or were unethical inside the hospital. I was never an administrator inside the hospital. I was always an independent contractor.”

When asked whether the reports involving Suhail concerned Adkins or anyone at the county level, Adkins said there was no concern.

“And in my dealings with them and working with them they’ve been nothing but driven, friendly and focused on this,” he explained. “So there hasn’t been any hesitation or reason to doubt or not be excited by what they’re doing.”

During his two-day trip to Chicago, Adkins said he spent time with the entire team in a conference room going over their plans.

“[We] kind of went from A to Z as much as we could to from everything to just looking at the setup to the spacing of the beds, the number of the beds, and that’s where his team really blew me away,” he said.

Adkins said Dr. Suhail and his team also intend to create a hospital advisory board with local stakeholders. Anyone interested in learning more can contact Adkins’ office.

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