Childrens hospital groundbreaking, autism center centerpiece for a region

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ) – The opening of one specialty medical center and breaking ground on another are the latest signs of rebirth in rural parts of Eastern Kentucky.

U.S. Rep. Harold Hal Rogers, Ky-05, and Gov. Andy Beshear celebrated the groundbreaking Friday of the Pikeville Medical Center Childrens Hospital in Pike County thanks in part to a $4.78 million Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot Program grant.

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They also joined local leaders for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for PMCs Appalachian Valley Autism Center.

The new Childrens Hospital in Pikeville, when finished, will treat patients from birth to 18 years, providing regional health care services for more than 100,000 children in a 50-mile radius encompassing 23 counties in Eastern Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia and Southern West Virginia.

It is expected to add 50 full-time staffers when completed, with up to 200 additional positions expected within the following four years.

Thanks to a partnership with the University of Kentucky Childrens Hospital, a Joint Pediatric Leadership Working Team will help develop specialty services at the facility.

When construction is completed, which is expected in less than 18 months, patients also will find a 10-bed in-patient unit, 13 pediatric exam rooms, a childrens waiting area and playroom.

The opening in Pikeville marked the first official trip for Beshear outside of Frankfort since early March before the commonwealth’s first coronavirus case.

While much of the nation has been shut down by fear of the coronavirus the resiliency of our mountain people is shining through today,” said Rogers, who along with Senate Majority 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. “I feared the pandemic would put the brakes on critical projects like this across our rural region but we are pressing on in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, expanding health care catered to our children in Eastern Kentucky!

“I believe health care is a human right, and this is certainly true for our children,” Beshear added. “This announcement provides much-needed relief for families in Eastern Kentucky that no longer have to worry about traveling hours to seek care for their children. I congratulate everyone who is working hard throughout this global health pandemic to make access to these health care services a reality in Pikeville.”

“Today’s groundbreaking is full of promise for our future. I couldn’t be more proud as this community takes the next steps in construction of a premier medical facility for Kentucky’s children,” said McConnell. “When this hospital is completed, all of Central Appalachia can look to Pikeville for top-notch health care.

On behalf of Pikeville Medical Center, the Board of Directors, physicians and staff, I want to thank Gov. Andy Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers for supporting Pikeville Medical Centers overall plan to expand pediatric services to the children of our region. With the efforts and support of Gov. Beshear, Congressman Hal Rogers and ARCs Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas, PMC received two grants totaling nearly $6.3 million to develop the region’s first childrens hospital,” said Pikeville Medical Center CEO Donovan Blackburn.

“In addition to developing the region’s first children’s hospital and a new autism center, other PMC pediatric initiatives we have are the only NICU in our service area and an emergency department that is certified a pediatric ready and now the first emergency department in Kentucky to become a Certified Autism Center. These are just a few ways to show our commitment to serve the needs of our pediatric patients,” Blackburn continued.

The project was selected for funding through the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Division of Abandoned Mine Lands, as part of the Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot Program to revitalize the coalfields in Kentuckys Appalachian region through economic development.

Since 2016, 43 projects in 21 counties have been selected for the pilot program.

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman said the pediatric clinic will meet a great regional need and foster a healthier community in around Pike County, which has a population of about 65,000 and is a cornerstone of the region.

“This AML Pilot grant will allow thousands of young Eastern Kentuckians and their families who currently have to travel hours to major urban centers to get quality pediatric care much closer to home,” Goodman said. “This is great news not only for the health of the region but for its increased economic outlook.”