Town approves bond for new hospital

FRONT ROYAL – Before Valley Health received its last necessary approval from Town Council for a bond of up to $60 million  for its new hospital, concerned citizens once again voiced displeasure over the lack of an obstetrics unit at the facility.

Town Attorney Doug Napier explained that the bond is not issued by the town and will not result in liability or debt to the locality or taxpayers. While the town and county had to approve the bond, he said it is being issued by the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, which is a separate legal entity.

The group of concerned citizens – who have dubbed themselves “Birth Local” – initially spoke out against the lack of an obstetrics unit when Valley Health requested the rezoning of the hospital’s future site from agricultural to mixed-use campus.

While Town Council members expressed concern over the lack of an obstetrics unit, the board explained that state law does not allow rezoning to be denied because of this decision.

Melody Salins told the council at Monday night’s meeting that denying the bond “is your chance.”

“You can vote this down. You can delay this vote pending a sit-down meeting with Valley Health and ask them to find solutions,” she said.

She added that since Warren Memorial Hospital closed its birthing unit three weeks ago, there have been three reports of women who had issues traveling to Winchester Medical Center. While those three babies were OK, she asked:”How long before one is not”

Kate Kerns told the council that Valley Health claims that issuing a bond will help the community, but Birth Local has proven otherwise. She added that if Valley Health expects the community’s trust, it should work alongside the town to address citizens’ concerns. 

“Why should we do them any more favors when they refuse to listen to any of our concerns?” she asked.

Councilman John Connolly was the lone councilman to vote against the bond because he said he would not endorse “a downgrade of a hospital.” Councilmen Gary Gillispie and Chris Morrison were not present at Monday’s meeting. 

Councilman William Sealock noted that the hospital could request bonds from any municipality. He added that any fees Valley Health pays for the bonds would “stay in the community” and he does not want to see those benefits go elsewhere.

Several Valley Health officials were present at Monday’s meeting when the bond was approved, including Warren Memorial Hospital President Floyd Heater, but they did not speak. They have, however, replied to citizens’ concerns during previous public hearings regarding rezoning.

According to previous reports, Heater said in April that over 60 percent of local mothers already deliver babies in Winchester. He added that while the obstetrics unit is closed, the new hospital will offer prenatal care.