Planning continues for old hospital use; VCU head provides update

Mr. Scott Burnette addressed questions and concerns about the status of the old CMH Hospital building located on Buena Circle in South Hill.

“Now I understand that there are some concerns about some promises I made a few years ago when we started building the new hospital that we would not leave an abandoned building in the middle of town and apparently they are some concern that I haven’t lived up to my promise. So let me tell you what we’ve been doing since that time,” said Burnette. 

VCU Health CMH has been assessing multiple options for the use of the facility but at the same time has been trying to grow service lines and other projects within the community. The VCU Health System has been considering turning the building into an educational facility. Burnette pointed out that the VCU Health System is a $4 billion corporation with many projects in the works. 

The facility has currently been prepped to house COVID-19 positive patients. “Because we did not abandon that building, we have been maintaining that building, we maintaining the grounds over there; when COVID struck we were told that we had to be prepared to take anywhere from 54 to 550 COVID patients at one time in our facility.” 

According to Burnette, on an average day 25% of VCU Health CMH’s patients have COVID and 10 to 15 percent of the Emergency Room patients show signs of the virus. Since there is no definitive end to the pandemic in sight, the building will remain a COVID building in the event of a surge. 

For a few years now there have been discussions about turning the facility into a nursing home. Burnette says that “because of the cost of demolishing the old hospital and the phasing that we would have to do for that just so we could build a new nursing home and expand other services there; that potential project was ruled out in March”, after which all VCU project planning was placed on hold.

The VCU Health System is one of the few companies that did not layoff any of there employees during the pandemic and as a result has had to “reassess some of their financial obligations”. 

“What I did commit to this town at the very beginning, and I have stood by this, if we cannot come up with anything else to do with this facility and we don't have any alternate uses or other individuals want to buy the facility, I have committed that we will demolish that facility and turn the property to residential use.”  

Since the opening of the new VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in 2017, the facility has added roughly 150 new jobs to the area. “Of the 150 full time employees, that’s $9.9 million more in salaries that are being put into this community for the employees from our hospitals,” said Burnette. The hospital has hired 31 positions and opened two new specialty clinics, with two more being developed. 

In the meantime VCU Health CMH will continue to maintain the building and the grounds and will continue to work to prevent creating an “eye sore” in the community. “I have heard that there have been suggestions that the town needs to set up a committee to determine what to do with the hospital. Let be clear, that is not the town’s [decision], that is private property, owned by VCU Health System, and they have the very best interest of this town at heart.” 

Mr. Burnette added that the building formerly known as the Pavilion has been converted into dorm space for students from the VCU Medical School, VCU Pharmacy School, Nursing school, etc. The hope is that the students will eventually be recruited to rural communities in the future.