OAK HILL — A Fayette County storefront that has been vacant for more than five years will soon be home to medical mall, filled with health and wellness services. 

Over the next two years, the former Kmart off Rt. 19 will be transformed into a new location of New River Health Association (NRHA). 

NRHA, a federally qualified health center serving Fayette, Raleigh and Nicholas counties, has been serving the region for more than 40 years. 

"Most of our facilities are kind of tucked away in communities," said Gabriel Peña, chair of the NRHA board. "They're not really visible.

"When the Kmart building came up for sale, we felt there was an opportunity to increase New River Health Association's visibility and thereby access to health care." 

After learning the building would soon be auctioned online, NRHA made an offer of $750,000 on the 94,000-square foot building. The owners accepted the offer and NRHA closed on the property in February. 

Possibilities discussed Thursday for the facility include emergency services, pharmacy services, dental and vision services, behavioral health, and indoor physical activity opportunities during the winter.

Other opportunities, such as physical therapy, child care, and adult day care, are anticipated through community partnerships. Conversations are underway with Raleigh General Hospital, Charleston Area Medical Center and Active Southern West Virginia. 

"We're leaning on finding partners to help fill the space and create opportunities for more preventive health care," Peña said. "We want to create more opportunities to improve health care through physical activity and social engagement.

"We want to provide a supportive environment that will allow folks to live a healthy life, not only physically, but mentally as well." 

Some services will be consolidated at the new location, such as lab services and storage space, but Peña said all other New River Health locations will remain open. 

"Having health care access in all our communities throughout our service area is really important. Part of that strategy is leaving those facilities open."

He said the health outcomes of southern West Virginia require a more aggressive and creative approach to preventive health care. 

"New River Health Association and our board very much understand we have to take some innovative approaches to health care to really move the dial on health outcomes," Peña said. "We are struggling in a way I'd say more urbanized areas aren’t. Isolation exacerbates poor health outcomes."

Paul Lively, one of the original board members and a current board member, said there are people who live in Oak Hill who don't know where the New River Family Health Center is located. 

But the new location — where NRHA Chief Executive Officer John Schultz said 16,000 cars drive by daily — will provide visibility not offered at other sites.   

"To me, it's a very exciting time," Lively said. "It means a great expansion where we can be seen more visibly in the community." 

The board anticipates construction beginning in late fall, with a tentative open date in 2021. 

While Schultz said the property needs work, he said the building itself is structurally sound. 

"As part of the online bidding, the engineering firm did an assessment of the building, which came back clean," Schultz said. 

Most of the work is interior, but some equipment will need replaced, such as the heating and venting systems. 

Schultz anticipates selecting an architectural firm within the next 30 to 45 days. After that, he expects three to four months' worth of design time. 

"We want to figure out how to best use the space for New River and our collaborators."

Initially, the new location will have 50 to 60 current employees, but as services expand, Schultz expects those numbers to grow. 

Started in 1978 with less than 10 employees, NRHA is now one of Fayette County’s largest non-governmental employers with 175 full-time staff.

NRHA operates full-service sites in Fayetteville, Whipple, Sophia and Scarbro, along with three pharmacies, two dental offices and eight school health sites in three counties. Preventive medicine, women’s health, chronic illness management, prenatal care, urgent care, cardiopulmonary and pulmonary rehabilitation, laboratory and Xray services, Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT), and behavioral health are among NRHA’s varied health care services.

Public comment and suggestions for the new site may be submitted via Facebook message, emailed to progress@nrhawv.org, or mailed to Progress, P.O.Box 337, Scarbro, 25917. 

— Email: wholdren@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

— Email: wholdren@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

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