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Ballad Health said Wednesday that it is working to reopen Lee County’s hospital but that the process will take until next year. In the meantime, an urgent care center in a nearby medical office building is slated to open in September.

Ballad Health plans to open an urgent care center in September in the Lee County medical center while it remodels the hospital and seeks federal and state licensing approval.

Ballad officials presented a timetable for reopening Lee County’s hospital on Wednesday during a meeting of the Southwest Virginia Health Authority in Abingdon.

Lee County Supervisor Larry Mosley, who serves on the authority board, questioned why the plan is for urgent care and not an emergency room.

“I think you will get flak back on the urgent care,” he said, and questioned whether Ballad would be competing with local physicians.

Ballad executive Monty McLaurin said they have met with the doctors to discuss their plans, and expect to offer services during evenings and weekends.

He said the urgent care will be staffed with emergency department physicians and nurses.

“There is a potential that urgent care could convert to the emergency department in the hospital while we are staging it,” he said.

Mosley suggested they tell the community what they are planning.

McLaurin said meetings have been set up with the county’s board of supervisors, and with several civic and government groups.

He said Ballad also will meet next week with the county’s emergency services to discuss their needs and might offer to provide a paramedic since there isn’t one in Lee County.

Lee County residents have been without around-the-clock emergency care since Wellmont Health System closed the hospital in 2013. County officials have been trying since then to reopen it, and went through a failed venture with a Florida company before partnering in January with Ballad.

Ballad is working toward opening a critical access care hospital in 2020.

Mosley said they have a meeting next week in Washington, D.C., with Virginia’s senators to help facilitate the process.

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Luanne Rife writes about the businesses, policies, discoveries and inventions that affect the health of people living in southwestern Virginia.

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