SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) — A committee from the Virginia Department of Health is recommending that plans for Isle of Wight County’s first hospital be denied.

In an Oct. 19 analysis from the department’s Division of Certificate of Public Need, staff members wrote that the construction of a planned $100-million, 50-bed acute care facility would “unnecessarily duplicate existing services already available” in the region and that a more efficient proposal would be “maintenance of the status quo.”

The recommendation does not bind Dr. Norman Oliver, the Virginia Health commissioner, to come to the same conclusion. Riverside Health Systems CEO Bill Downey is still holding out hope that he doesn’t.

“We are deeply disappointed by the initial recommendation,” Downey said in a statement. “Thousands of residents, the leadership and first responders across Isle of Wight and Surry counties made clear their support, both in personal testimony and in written signature, for Riverside Smithfield Hospital.”

Riverside Health Systems, which has owned the land for several years in the Benns Church area of Smithfield near the intersection of Routes US-258, VA-32 and VA-10, came out with plans for the hospital in June. Plans call for 34 medical-surgical beds, 10 intensive care unit beds, and six obstetric beds, four general purpose operating rooms, and emergency department and other diagnostic, procedural and physician services.

A Riverside Smithfield Hospital Rendering (Credit: Riverside Health System)

The federal government has designated Isle of Wight and Surry counties as “medically underserved” and “health practitioner shortage areas,” according to a release from Riverside.

The VDH report stated hundreds of letters in support of the hospital’s construction were submitted and the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors has endorsed the project, too.

Supporters such as Valerie Butler, president of the Isle of Wight NAACP Chapter and a Smithfield town councilwoman, say many who live in the county live more than 30 minutes from the nearest hospital and emergency department and that potential delays on bridges to the Virginia Peninsula and Suffolk concern many.

“It could mean the difference of saving a life or not saving a life,” Butler said. “A local hospital will definitely probably prolong some people’s lives.”

A view of the closest hospitals to Riverside’s proposed Smithfield Hospital (Credit: Riverside Health System)

Only one letter of opposition was submitted. It came from health care competitor Bon Secours Hampton Roads Health Systems, which owns Bon Secours Harbour View as well as several other hospitals in the region.

VDH staff agreed with Bon Secours’ remarks that the hospital would duplicate medical resources already available in the Hampton Roads area. The staff also said the project would add to the region’s current surplus of medical-surgical beds.

With the health commissioner not expected to make a final decision until December, Butler remains hopeful the project could still be approved.

“If residents continue that letter-writing campaign, that will be an added enhancement to the decision making as well,” Butler said.

It is unfortunate that many of the men, women and children in these counties, both of which are federally recognized as Medically Underserved Areas, have inadequate access to quality healthcare services and limited choice in providers.  We remain steadfast in our commitment to support the improvement of access to high quality healthcare and believe there are numerous reasons for the Commissioner to approve Riverside Smithfield Hospital.  We will continue to work with those at the Virginia Department of Health and the Commissioner, who will ultimately make the final decision, to clearly demonstrate the public need for Riverside Smithfield Hospital. We want to thank the many residents, local officials and first-responders who provided such a tremendous outpouring of support.

Bill Downey, CEO, Riverside Health System