By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – The first phase of an estimated $8 million investment plan by Yalobusha Health Services (YHS) to expand services in the community will go out for bids next month. YHS Administrator Terry Varner reported the project includes interior and exterior renovations at the hospital, plus the addition of a second floor on the front of the hospital that will house a geropsychology unit.
Varner reported the price tag for the work at the hospital is expected to cost around $4 million, half of the total $8 million long-term plan that also includes constructing an assisted living facility and wellness center that will be located off-site from the current hospital property.
The $4 million hospital renovation follows more than a decade of updates, renovations and expanded services at the county’s 50-plus year-old facility, according to Varner, who added that the geropsychology unit has been in the planning phase for at least five years.
Varner said that hospital officials have fielded questions about the planned work in light of an Attorney General lawsuit filed earlier in the month regarding the decades old contamination from the release of Trichloroethylene (TCE) at the nearby former Colt Industries/Holley Carbu-retor site. Since the release of TCE, commonly used as an industrial degreaser, the chemical has crept toward O’Tuckolofa Creek in an area described a plume that spans an area north of the industrial site that includes an estimated 28 residences and 11 commercial buildings on portions of South Main Street, Frostland Drive and Champion Circle. The contaminated area includes the county-owned hospital and nursing home and Department of Health building on South Main.
Attorney General Jim Hood filed the lawsuit on behalf of the State of Mississippi on April 7 against EnPro Industries, the company that acquired the liability for the contamination, and Oldco LLC and Goodrich Corp. Among allegations are that a recent groundwater sampling from the vicinity tested for TCE at 297,000 parts per billion, 59,400 times the EPA’s contaminant level for TCE in groundwater.
Last year MDEQ Executive Director Gary Rikard reported the TCE contamination does not affect the city’s drinking water, which is different from the ground water, as there are no wells in the area. Rikard’s comments came during a public meeting last April and followed a flurry of activity by his agency regarding the contamination. MDEQ reported the renewed scrutiny was prompted due to new vapor intrusion guidelines implemented by the EPA in 2015, defining vapor intrusion as the process where vapors from the underground solvents travel upward through the soil. Vapor intrusion can become a health threat the TCE enters a home or building as a vapor and is inhaled over an extended period of time.
In multiple rounds of sampling last year, MDEQ tested the soil near numerous structures in the contaminated area to determine if there were elevated levels of TCE in the soil that could indicate vapor intrusion is a threat. Testing in August showed there were elevated levels of TCE in the soil in four out of 43 sample locations, all located in Champion Circle. The seven sample locations in the immediate vicinity of the hospital and nursing home indicated that the TCE level in the soil is below the threshold deemed to be a threat by the EPA.
“The data that we have from MDEQ is what we are going by, and it says we are well below the minimum,” Varner explained.
Varner expects the geropsychology unit to start serving patients in October, 2018. He also explained that the total debt that will be incurred for the entire $8 million plan will be $3.6 million, with the remaining funding coming from the New Market Tax Credit Program ($3.8 million) and grants ($600,000.) Varner also said the hospital’s current debt level is extremely low and includes $1.425 million for a nursing home bond and $600,000 for the daycare that opened last year on Frostland Drive.
He also said the hospital has invested $14 million in health care in the last decade for projects that include equipment, building additions, renovations, HVAC and electrical upgrades.
Varner also explained that construction for an assisted living facility still hinges on finding a good location, which will require more acreage than is available on the hospital campus. The hospital administrator confirmed that one possible site was property east of Main Street that was purchased last year by four Oxford investors for a proposed trailer park expansion.
“We looked into buying the property but neither side could agree on a price,” Varner explained about the failed negotiations. “We are talking with the city about several possibilities but we can’t disclose any of that yet,” Varner said.
Other information from the April 13 interview with Varner includes:
• A new doctor from Canada will soon join the health care team at YHS, bringing the total number of doctors to four. YHS also has more than 20 consulting physicians
• YHS will open a medical supply store on Main Street in Water Valley.
• The new daycare on Frostland Drive currently has 65 enrollees and could be expanded if needed. A small home-school is also offered at the facility.
• YHS will start offering cardiac rehab and stress testing.
• Plans are also underway to add a pulmonary rehab in the coming months.