There’s more help coming for people in Southwest Virginia who have trouble getting adequate health care, thanks to a new foundation set up in the Norton area with the proceeds of the sale of a nearly 50% stake in the Norton Community Hospital.

Ballad Health, which already owned 50.1% of the hospital, bought the remaining 49.9% from the Community Healthcare Foundation Inc. on Sept. 30, according to a story in the Bristol Herald Courier.

That foundation had partnered with Ballad Health’s predecessor, Mountain States Health, in 2007 to bring new growth opportunities to the Norton hospital, whose history dates to the founding of Norton’s Miner’s Hospital in 1949. The current Norton Community Hospital, which has 129 inpatient beds, opened in 1977, and received major updates in 2002.

With the proceeds from the sale of its remaining interest in the hospital – at an undisclosed price – the Community Health Foundation now becomes The Rapha Foundation, another federally registered nonprofit organization dedicated to “improving population health and access to education in Southwest Virginia,” according to the story.

The goal of this new foundation, which has a nine-member volunteer board of directors, is “to administer, invest in and create major grants focused on addressing root causes of health and education inequality,” according to a statement released in conjunction with the move.

“This is an exciting opportunity to enable positive change and strengthen our community beyond hospital walls,” said Charles Ward, chairman of the board of The Rapha Foundation and former chairman of Norton Community Hospital.

“Our work has already begun to identify significant areas of need where we believe The Rapha Foundation can make an impact in addressing health literacy, health care access and creating new pathways to education.”

As anyone who is familiar with the Southwest Virginia coalfields – and for that matter, Southern Appalachia in general – knows, access to health care has always been a problem for much of the population.

Although there have been some significant strides forward in recent years to create a better health-care environment in the region and improve access to it, there is still much to be done, particularly now that the decline of the coal industry has put so many people out of work.

It is for this reason that we applaud Ballad Health for the decision to buy the remaining interest in the Norton Community Hospital, which has enabled the resulting proceeds of the sale to be put to good use in a foundation that plans to leverage that money for improved health-care access for Southwest Virginiaians.

“We’re grateful for the years of partnership we have enjoyed with the foundation building a thriving hospital system in the region and look forward to continuing to work together,” said Mark Leonard, CEO of Ballad Health’s Wise and Dickenson County facilities.

“By unlocking their minority equity in the hospitals, The Rapha Foundation now has an exciting opportunity to join Ballad Health in directly investing in solutions tackling the root causes of poor health in the area,” said Leonard, who called the move a “new chapter” for the region.

This is a good move for the people of Southwest Virginia, and those involved in making it happen should be commended for their vision.

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