Regions Hampton Roads

Eastern Shore hospital plans to relocate

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Plans to relocate Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital have prompted divided reaction from Eastern Shore residents.

In August, Dr. Karen Remley, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Health, approved the hospital’s request to move from Nassawadox in Northampton County, its home since 1928, to a 55-acre site near Onley in Accomack County.

“For us, it was nothing but good news,” says Steve Miner, Accomack’s county administrator. “We are looking forward to the move.”

But for H. Spencer Murray of the Northampton Board of Supervisors, the news was very disappointing because residents from his county will be farther away from emergency care.

The $84 million facility will be 18 miles north of its current location. After the move, the existing hospital will contain doctor’s offices and an urgent-care clinic but no emergency room services.

Murray argues that the proposed scenario doesn’t fit the needs of the two counties because it could take some Northampton residents up to 45 minutes to reach the new hospital. Like many Northampton residents, he was hoping that Riverside would have two hospitals, one in the current location and a new facility in Accomack.

“We acknowledge that for over 50 years northern Accomack, including the island of Chincoteague, needed a hospital closer than Nassawadox, especially for emergencies and intensive-care services,” he says. “We felt the Nassawadox facility could be converted to a critical-access hospital.”

Discussions about building a new hospital began when Shore Memorial Hospital joined Newport News-based Riverside Health System in 2009. The hospital’s board looked at the possibility of operating two hospitals but nixed the idea for financial reasons.

“When they did an analysis, they found the revenue we could expect from increased volume didn’t come close to covering the cost to duplicate services,” says Joseph P. Zager, vice president and administrator at Riverside Shore Memorial. “They shifted their focus to one facility.”

Murray says the relocation plan was shrouded in secrecy “with no community input” and that the proposed urgent-care clinic won’t adequately serve Northampton. “The urgent-care center means nothing to us,” he says. “They don’t have to take indigent patients, and we are a very poor county. We would love to continue to negotiate with Riverside to leave a stand-alone emergency room in Northampton.”

Construction of the new hospital is expected to begin in fall 2012. It will take approximately 24 months to complete.

The new facility will have 78 beds, 65 fewer than the current hospital. “We’ve only been operating at about 80 beds,” Zager says. “We are going down in size because the needs have changed. Eight years ago we had 103 patients on our busiest day. Last year we had 73 on our busiest day. That’s about a 30 percent drop.” 

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