River Valley Hospital, formerly known as the Lawrence County General Hospital, was located along South 9th Street in Ironton, Ohio.

Planning for the Lawrence County General Hospital began in 1935 and a three-story facility was completed in September 1937.2 14 Ohio’s governor, Martin Davie, installed the building’s cornerstone during the dedication ceremonies. The hospital opened with great commotion and excitement, with the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps leading the way from downtown to the hospital site for the opening ceremonies,14 and was given its benediction complete with prayers, the reading of Bible verses, and songs by the Ironton High School Choir.13

The hospital opened with 65 patient beds and was expanded in 1948 with a four-story addition adjacent to the hospital’s original structure, nearly doubling the capacity.14

In March 2000, the hospital announced plans to expand the hospital, bringing forth an improved imaging center, an expanded laboratory, a remodeled pharmacy and a new cardiac rehabilitation section. Work on the $5 million improvement project began in late 2000.12 It included plans to relocate the ambulance center, housed within the hospital, to elsewhere in the city so that the hospital could use the space for future expansion. Other plans were also made for a 20,000 sq. ft. fitness center, an indoor running track, a college-size basketball court and fitness machines and weights.12

In December 2000, ten new trustees were appointed to the hospital board in a vein effort to save the hospital.10 The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 was blamed for the rapidly rising costs of medical care, which supposedly placed major constraints at River Valley when funding was cut for people receiving Medicare. County commissioners had earlier in November agreed to issue $500,000 in hospital bonds to assist the ailing hospital, which would have allowed the facility to borrow money at a rate as low as 4% and be paid back over a 10-year term.11

The hospital closed on January 31, 2001 due to $18 million in outstanding debt.3 4 8 15 Over 400 employees were put out of work at Ironton location and at a psychiatric facility in Portsmouth; over 650 were employed only in 1997.11 Several parties were interested in the former hospital, including the county, who wanted to use the hospital as a jail and county office site.8

A temporary billing office opened within the hospital on April 3, 2001 9 and was an effort to collect several million dollars in outstanding debts owed to the hospital before it closed, including medical bills incurred during the last 10 days the hospital performed medical procedures.

The property was transferred to Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital (OLBH) on September 5, 2002 in a $5 million purchase from a court-appointed receiver.3 7 OLBH had been interested in the purchase since the hospital closed in 2001, whose intent was to convert a portion of the complex into an urgent care facility that would offer diagnostic services.3 7 OLBH ultimately pulled out of the deal after the project was deemed too expensive,4 as the boiler, heating and air conditioning systems needed replacement.6 OLBH eventually opened an urgent care center elsewhere in the city.

In September 2002, the Lawrence County Board of Commissioners requested that the Federal Bureau of Investigations investigate how the River Valley Health System, who operated the hospital until its closure, racked up a massive debt before closure. OLBH announced plans to move the hospital’s finance, accounting department and business personnel to the fourth floor of the Ironton City Center Building in 2003.6 The relocation would have brought 50 jobs and $2.7 million in payroll, but the plan was shelved in late February 2004.

A 40-member committee of local business and community leaders probed possible uses of the facility in 2004, which included a medical plaza or medical mall, a long-term care nursing home, an assisted living home for veterans, a broad-based business center, or as a specialized laboratory services or an allied health and medical training facility.5 No action was undertaken, and in 2006, the Ironton Port Authority, the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization and OLBH announced plans to form a public-private partnership for the development of new residential housing on the hospital’s site.1 OLBH donated the five-acre hospital site to the Ironton Port Authority, and provided funding for the project. It also initiated environmental site assessments, and pledged up to $100,000 in additional funds to help prepare the site for further development.

A $750,000 Clean Ohio Assistance Fund grant from the Ohio Development of Development in early 2007 was awarded to pay for a portion of demolition, asbestos abatement and site preparation.1 OLBH hosted a “Service of Thanksgiving” as a commemoration of the history of the hospital on October 14,1 which was attended by several hundred.13

“When the building was built there was a dedication, naturally and then with each addition, there was always a really nice ceremony. They were always well put together. Many of us were born there and many of our relatives died there, so it is a building that I have a lot of attachment to. I think may people in the community have a great attachment to it.”

-Bill Dickens, Ironton Port Authority chairman

Asbestos and chemical cleanup began in May 2008 and was completed in late July.15 Demolition of the buildings began shortly after. The former hospital site was replaced with Beechwood Place, a 23-lot residential development.13 15 The entryway was preserved and located on the site as a permanent memorial to the hospital.14

[stag_toggle style=”normal” title=”Sources” state=”closed”]
  1. Shaffer, Mark. “River Valley’s final service.” Ironton Tribune 5 Oct. 2007. 7 Oct. 2007 Article.
  2. Cornerstone
  3. Malloy, David E. “Commissioners want hospital investigated.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 13 Sept. 2002.
  4. “Ironton at least needs a small medical facility.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 27 May 2005.
  5. Malloy, David E. “Options for closed hospital discussed.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 7 March 2004.
  6. Malloy, David E. “OLBH pulls out of job commitment.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 28 Feb. 2004: 1C.
  7. Schneider, Jeremy W. “Former RVHS building to get new life as urgent care facility.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 6 Sept. 2002: 1C.
  8. Malloy, David E. “`Some hope’ exists for River Valley.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 30 Oct. 2001: 1C.
  9. Malloy, David E. “River Valley restarts bill collection.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 4 April 2001: 1C.
  10. Redekopp, Christina. “Trustees step down to save hospital.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 29 Dec. 2000: 1C.
  11. Malloy, David E. “Officials race to save Ohio hospital.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 21 Dec. 2000: 1C.
  12. Malloy, David E. “River Valley hospital plans.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 26 March 2000: 1C.
  13. Moore, Teresa. “Community remembers story of Ironton hospital.” Ironton Tribune 15 Oct. 2007. 15 Oct. 2007 Article.
  14. Hart, Kenneth. “Hundreds bid farewell to hospital.” Independent (Ashland) 15 Oct. 2007. 15 Oct. 2007 Article.
  15. Moore, Teresa. “River Valley demolition on schedule.” Ironton Tribune 7 June 2008. 9 June 2008 Article.