Valley Health Board of Trustees approves construction plans for new hospital

Floyd Heater

The Valley Health System Board of Trustees voted to approve the construction and planning of the replacement for Warren Memorial Hospital in their meeting on Tuesday.

Floyd Heater, the president of Warren Memorial Hospital, praised the decision, as hospital officials continue to work toward getting approval to begin constructing the facility.

“We’ve been working hard for a number of years to get it to this point, and this is kind of taking that dream to a reality,” Heater said. “And so it’s been an exciting week.”

Joseph Silek, the chair of the Valley Health System Board of Trustees, said that the board “overwhelmingly” approved the new facility at Leach Run Parkway, across from Warren County Middle School.

“We realized about a year ago, maybe 18 months ago, that Valley Health wanted to remain in Warren County, and to do that, we needed to build a new facility,” Silek said. “So that was not a hard issue. The hard issue was probably the scope of the project.”

Valley Health's Warren Memorial Hospital on South Shenandoah Avenue in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It’s a very expensive process,” Silek added.

Unlike the current Warren Memorial Hospital facility at Shenandoah Avenue, the Leach Run Parkway facility will not offer obstetrics services, leaving Warren County patients to look elsewhere for their pregnancy care. Heater said that he believes the Board of Trustees came to the decision because of investments that Valley Health has made into developing maternal health care services at Winchester Medical Center.

“I think Valley Health has invested a lot of money in upgrading its maternal fetal medicine program and obstetrics department and labor and delivery at Winchester Medical Center,” Heater said.

Silek said that he was not concerned about pregnant Warren County patients having less access to care. He added that people currently performing obstetrics services at Warren Memorial Hospital should be able to find positions within Valley Health System.

“There’s plenty of nursing opportunities throughout the system and at Warren Memorial Hospital for those people to be employed by the system,” Silek said.

The decision not to offer obstetrics services at Warren Memorial Hospital follows a national trend, particularly in hospitals that are outside of metropolitan areas. According to a September paper in the health policy journal “Health Affairs,” less than half of all rural counties had at least one hospital that offered obstetrics services.

“Historically, obstetric services have often been among the first of a hospital’s service lines to be cut when finances require such measures,” the article reads.

Apart from its obstetrics services, Heater said that Warren Memorial Hospital intends to keep all of the services it currently offers. In addition, he said that the hospital will expand some of the services, focusing on how to better serve an aging population.

“You’ll see a lot of our investment is in the area of services for older adults,” Heater said. “But we’ll continue to provide a broad array of outpatient services for women in Warren County, through our physician practices (and) diagnostic testing. So really, the only service we’re not going to be providing once we open the new hospital is the delivery of babies.”

The new hospital facility is still a long way from coming to Front Royal. Valley Health plans on opening the new facility toward the end of 2020, according to a news release from the hospital system.

In the meantime, hospital officials have been working on getting approval for construction plans for the facility. The organization submitted a letter to the Virginia Department of Health in November stating their plan to build a new facility.

In January, they will submit an application for the project.

Hospital officials are also working on determining what will go in the place of the current Warren Memorial Hospital. The Lynn Care Center, which provides post-hospital rehabilitation services, will remain where it is. But officials have not yet decided what to do with the remaining space.

“We have not decided that, and we are going to be evaluating our options over the course of this next year,” Heater said.