OAK HILL — A long-serving foundational member of its past, Paul Lively is eagerly anticipating the future of New River Health.

Lively is a charter member of the New River Health Association's board of directors, and he was among those on hand Thursday, June 3 as New River Health CEO John Schultz and company employees were joined by community members and governmental representatives for a groundbreaking ceremony to usher in NRH's planned move from its current Scarbro base to the former Kmart building in Oak Hill.

A $14 million project designed by ZMM Architects & Engineers, with Paramount Builders performing the renovations, is tentatively set for completion by late April 2022.

"I'm very excited about (the expansion)," said Lively, a former miner who was born and raised in Monroe County but has lived in Oak Hill for nearly 50 years. "I really am looking forward to (seeing the new facility open in Oak Hill) so even more people can have opportunity for services."

A board member who has served since 1976, Lively recalled, "A bunch of coal miners got together. We realized we needed more access to (medical care), because many of the physicians in this area would not take Medicare or Medicaid.

"We got together; we decided we'd try to start a clinic that would take care of these people. We began to search for grants (the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation was instrumental in the early stages, he said)."

Lively says New River Health and its associated clinics, pharmacies and other entities have "done a great job, and a lot of people have been able to access health care (that might otherwise not have been able to). I feel very fortunate to be part of a group that has been offering medical services to those people."

New River Health serves Fayette, Raleigh and Nicholas counties with medical, behavioral and dental care. The organization operates six medical sites, three dental sites, four pharmacies and eight school-based health centers.

"This is a huge step forward for New River," Schultz said last week. "This will be a state-of-the-art medical facility for our patients in the communities of Oak Hill, Fayetteville and Fayette County."

In his remarks, Schultz called it a "pretty exciting day for New River Health as well as Fayette County."

"We'll be able to expand services; we'll also provide additional services that we don't currently provide for the community," he said afterwards. Among the current and/or new services to be offered in the future mentioned by Schultz Thursday were medical, dental health, mental health, women's health services, a pharmacy with a drive-thru window, chiropractic, Black Lung services, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, an urgent care center and others. The complex will be "basically a one-stop shop," he said.

To offer current and expanded services, Schultz, who termed himself "excited and nervous," said projections call for NRH to hire 40 new employees in the coming months.

New River Health purchased the property for about $750,000 in February 2019. After early design work began, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and delayed the process for several months.

The future of the Scarbro location will be addressed as time progresses. "That will be a discussion we'll have with our board in determining what use that building will be and what we want to use it for," said Schultz. "We don't want to abandon anybody in the community. We want to make sure they have access to care. This (the trip to Oak Hill) isn't that far, but we know transportation is an issue, so we'll have to make sure we take that into account."

While continuing with its normal outreach to members of the community, Schultz also expects that, due to increased traffic volume expected because of the new designation of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, New River Health may find itself serving vacationing tourists in the area who avail themselves of NRH services.

The new complex, by which one study showed that 26,000 cards pass by daily, is in a "highly-visible location," Schultz said.

The renovated 95,000-square-foot facility will also feature a conference center which will be open to the community for large and small gatherings," said Schultz, who thanked board members for their foresight and vision in moving the project forward.

"It's a tremendous addition to Oak Hill, and it just shows you how dedicated New River Health Care is to providing quality health care to rural areas of Fayette County," said Oak Hill Mayor Danny Wright. "This will not just be for Oak Hill's benefit; it's going to impact the whole plateau and maybe beyond.

"I commend New River for having the foresight and for having the dedication and the determination to expand health care to make a better place for all of us in Fayette County."

In 2020, New River Health, which has evolved into a Federally Qualified Health Center over the years, served 16,076 unique patients over the course of about 63,000 visits. Of those patients, 88 percent were at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, 17 percent were uninsured, 32 percent were covered by Medicaid, 19 percent were covered by Medicare, and 32 percent were covered by third party insurance.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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