More than 40 percent of Lonesome Pine Hospital’s emergency room traffic comes from Lee County. That will decrease when Lee Regional Hospital reopens next year.

NORTON — While Ballad Health insists it does not plan to close any facilities, the future for Lonesome Pine Hospital and Mountain View Regional Hospital remains unclear.

One upcoming change at Lonesome Pine is certain: It will lose some emergency room traffic when Lee Regional Hospital reopens next year.

Ballad continues to make changes in the transition from two health systems to one, according to Mark Leonard, chief executive officer for Lonesome Pine, Norton Community, Mountain View Regional and Dickenson Community hospitals.

During a Monday morning meeting, Leonard said the current structure of having three hospitals within a 15-mile radius — Lonesome Pine, Mountain View and Norton Community — “is not sustainable.”

Over the past few years, even before the merger of Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance, millions of dollars have been invested into the upkeep and upgrading of Norton Community Hospital. The improvements to Norton Community Hospital have left Wise County residents, especially those in Big Stone Gap and Appalachia, to wonder what is the fate of Lonesome Pine Hospital.

“Ballad is working with the Virginia Department of Health on an ideal configuration of the three campuses, but I cannot share much more than that today,” said Leonard.

Leonard did stay that none of the campuses will be closing. “We understand the need for jobs in the area so we are not planning to close any of the campuses. We want to develop a system of care that is sustainable.”

During a June 9 walkthrough of Lee Regional Hospital in Pennington Gap, Ballad Northwest Market President Monty McLaurin confirmed that the campus is expected to reopen sometime during the fourth quarter of 2020. The hospital will house 13 beds in the emergency department as well as 10 inpatient beds.

“There will be an impact on Lonesome Pine,” said Leonard.

He explained that between 42 and 43 percent of the hospital’s emergency department volume comes from Lee County. It is expected that the number will decline significantly after Lee Regional Hospital reopens.

In Norton, while Mountain View Regional Hospital still has an emergency department and inpatient beds, it no longer has surgical staff. According to Leonard, the surgical team was moved to completely to Lonesome Pine at the team’s recommendation.

Lonesome Pine Hospital has an obstetrics department and at times, emergency surgeries need to be performed. “With a C-section, the saying is ‘from decision to incision within a 30-minute time frame,” explained Leonard. “There is no way for the surgical team at Mountain View to be scrubbed in and ready for surgery at Lonesome Pine in 30 minutes.”

Other changes as Mountain View Regional include a reduction of the med/surg inpatient beds. What was at one point a more than 40-bed unit has been reduced to 10 beds. The 10 beds are located in the intensive care unit, with intensive care patients having priority.

The fourth floor of Mountain View is a different scene. The 44-bed skilled nursing/long term care unit has recently received a $280,000 makeover. Under the direction of head nurse Rhandi Harris, the unit has gone from a one-star Medicare rating to four stars.

When asked if a drug or mental health rehabilitation facility is being considered for Lonesome Pine or Mountain View Regional Hospital, Leonard replied: “Everything is on the table but nothing is decided. Nothing is off the table.”

He continued: “We don’t want to create an healthcare desert on any campus. We won’t just walk away and leave it sitting.”