Abandoned Mine Lands

AML Pilot Projects Saving Lives in Eastern Kentucky, Creating Healthier Communities

By Brad Bowman

Three Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Pilot program grants will soon ease many of the challenges eastern Kentuckians face to receive advanced medical care.

In 2019 and 2020, the Energy and Environment Cabinet (EEC) approved applications for more than $13 million in AML Pilot grants to Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) and King’s Daughters Health System (KDHS). 

The grants are funding projects for PMC’s children’s hospital and pediatric clinic, the expansion of its cancer center and enabling KDHS to invest in medical equipment and refill lost jobs due to a hospital closure in Russell, Kentucky. 

The projects will have an immediate impact on families locally and in the surrounding region. The economic boost will not only create jobs, but it will remove the barriers to quality health care, which too many eastern Kentuckians face.

Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman, who recommended the projects for funding through the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, said the projects will not just save patients’ lives, but also improve the health outcomes for generations to come. 

“Quality, accessible health care will no longer be tied to what zip code you live in for residents in eastern Kentucky,” Goodman said. “Not only will they save lives, but create healthier lifestyles through preventative care and early detection programs.” 

The PMC Children’s Hospital and Pediatric Clinic

The $4.78 million AML Pilot grant in 2019 is funding the new Children’s Hospital in Pikeville. When finished, it will treat patients from birth to 18 years of age and provide regional health care services to over 100,000 children in a 50-mile radius encompassing 23 counties in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia. It also is expected to add 50 full-time staff when completed, with up to 200 additional positions added within the next four years.

Through a partnership with the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital, a Joint Pediatric Leadership Working Team will help develop specialty services at the facility.

Patients will find a 10-bed inpatient unit, 13 pediatric exam rooms, a children’s waiting area and playroom.

When construction is completed, estimated to be October of 2021, eastern Kentucky families will no longer have to travel hours to major urban centers to get quality pediatric care.

According to PMC’s pediatric care statistics, more than 25,000 children were treated in clinics across the region. An additional 3,445 children were treated through the emergency department.

“For too long, the children of our region in need of specialized care have had no other choice but to be treated away from eastern Kentucky,” Pikeville Medical Center President and CEO Donovan Blackburn said. “Over and over again, traveling hundreds of miles for medical care has placed nearly unbearable emotional and financial burdens on families.

Blackburn said he has faced pediatric care challenges within his own family. 

“Like many others, I have also been personally affected by the lack of certain pediatric healthcare specialty services in our region,” Blackburn said. “In addition to serving as Pikeville Medical Center president and CEO, I am also a husband, a father and a grandfather. Our granddaughter, Ava (diagnosed on the autism spectrum at the age of two) and others facing similar challenges deserve to have the same opportunities as children in larger cities.” 

In addition to developing the region’s first children’s hospital and a new autism center, other PMC pediatric initiatives we have are the first emergency department in Kentucky to become a Certified Autism Center™ (CAC), Blackburn said.

What happens when a hospital closes?

In January 2020, the Bon Secours Health System announced that it would close its 214- bed Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital (OLBH), located in Russell. The closure of the hospital, founded in 1953, left approximately a thousand Kentuckians without a job and created a lack of local medical care for many.

A $4 million AML Pilot program grant in 2020 to expand King’s Daughters Health System (KDHS) in Ashland allowed KDHS to begin investing in the closed facility and allowed many OLBH former employees and healthcare providers to keep working. 

“This grant will benefit people in our region by providing up-to-date technology and equipment for medical services,” said King’s Daughters’ Hospital Chief Financial Officer and Vice President Autumn McFann. “It also will promote job growth as King’s Daughters Health System expands its healthcare services and adds jobs throughout the region.

“King’s Daughters had to invest a significant amount of capital into its facilities and hired many of the former OLBH employees and providers in order to ensure robust healthcare services continued for our region.”

In June 2020, KDMC reopened the former Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital Vitality Center, returning pediatric rehabilitation services to Russell. The center provides pediatric rehabilitation including physical, occupational and speech. KDMC King’s Daughters’ patient load is expected to increase by a minimum of 20 percent, to 840,000 patients annually. 

The new King’s Daughters Pavilion currently serves as a vaccine clinic. The building previously held administrative offices for Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital. Photo courtesy of KDHS.

The Pikeville Cancer Center Expansion 

The Pikeville Medical Center’s Leonard Lawson Cancer Center (LLCC) treated more than 25,000 patients in 2020. It’s one of the few full-service cancer centers in Kentucky that has received a commendation by the Commission on Cancer (COC), a consortium of professional organizations dedicated to improving survival and quality of life for cancer patients through standard-setting, prevention, research, education, and the monitoring of comprehensive quality care.

The $4.27 million, 2020 AML Pilot grant awarded to PMC will increase its oncology practice and cancer clinic area by 7,000 square feet, which will expand it chemotherapy treatment. The expansion will mean additional exam rooms, chemotherapy rooms and be in the same area as the new Cancer Center Pharmacy, which provides the cancer drug treatments. With the expansion, the cancer center’s patient load is projected to double. 

According to the medical center, the region has higher incident and mortality rates of lung cancer than non-Appalachian regions. The expansion will provide high-quality care close to home, lessening the hardships of travel for those rural residents. 

Additionally, PMC will create career opportunities for care providers, technicians, and additional staff — allowing patients to receive modern treatment close to home. 

“Cancer claims far too many lives in eastern Kentucky, as it is one of the top causes of death for our population,” said Blackburn.  “…With the recent downturn in the coal industry, many cancer patients, unfortunately, have not been able to afford to travel hundreds of miles for treatment.  When you consider the financial burden of gas, food and lodging associated with medical care away from home, you see the barriers that many in our region have faced. 

“This expansion…will play a large part in reducing those barriers and providing quality cancer care to a larger population in our region.” 

Gov. Andy Beshear and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) in March announced six economic development projects in five Appalachian counties have been selected for $14.2 million in 2020 Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Pilot program grants.

The projects, in Floyd, Harlan, Laurel, Morgan and Perry counties, range from the construction of water treatment plants to robotic instruction and will revitalize the coalfields in Kentucky’s Appalachian region through job creation and economic development. Since 2016, 54 projects in 21 counties have been selected for funding through the AML Pilot Program. 

Congressman Rogers, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has championed $540 million in federal funding for the AML Pilot program since 2016, of which $130 million has been awarded to Kentucky.

More information can be found at AML Pilot Program. 

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