FRANKFORT, Ky. – During the 2020 Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) virtual summit Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) announced two new projects in Pike and Boyd counties have been selected for more than $8 million in funding through the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Pilot grant program.
Pikeville Medical Center, if approved by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), will receive $4.27 million to expand and equip the Pikeville Medical Center’s Leonard Lawson Cancer Center. With the expansion, the Pike County cancer center will increase the chemotherapy treatment area by 7,000 square feet.
The King’s Daughters Health System expansion project will receive $4 million, if approved by OSMRE, for the purchase of health care equipment. This is expected to result in the creation of 250 full-time jobs and mitigate job losses and concerns about availability of care in the region after the closure of Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.
“These grants will bring real improvements to the lives of our people in Eastern Kentucky. My administration knows that health care is a basic human right, and it has never been more important than now, as we battle this global health pandemic,” said Gov. Beshear, who has made improving Kentucky’s health a central initiative of his administration. “We are committed to working with our federal partners to help deliver the best possible care for all of our citizens. It’s how we build a stronger Eastern Kentucky and a better Kentucky for everyone.”
Congressman Rogers, 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.
“We face some of the highest rates of health disparities in the country, so we must remain vigilant in our work to improve medical services and access to quality care in every community,” Congressman Rogers said. “Together these grants ensure that the people of Eastern Kentucky have a place close to home for the medical care they need, whether they have an emergency or face an extended battle with cancer. Ultimately, we hope to save lives and improve the quality of life through these two investments.”
Donovan Blackburn, Pikeville Medical Center CEO and vice president of the Board of Directors, thanked Gov. Beshear and Congressman Rogers for their continued support to improve the quality of health care in Kentucky and East Kentucky.
“Their ongoing commitment to bolster and improve the economy of Eastern Kentucky by creating jobs while developing a healthier workforce is crucial for our region,” Blackburn said. “Many cancer patients have no choice but to travel outside of our region and, many times, out of our state for treatment. This funding will change that. With this funding, these patients will receive advanced treatment close to home, which will support our mountain families and our local economy. We are grateful for the leadership and this much-needed investment to expand our workforce and enhance our fight on cancer.”
Blackburn added: “PMC shares Gov. Beshear’s passion to ensure access to health care for Kentucky, and specifically for our region. Today’s announcement is continued proof.”
Kristie Whitlatch, president and CEO of King’s Daughters said, “We appreciate Gov. Andy Beshear and his administrative team for their continued support. They recognize the importance of health care and have shown dedication to improving our local economy.”
“We are honored to receive this grant from the Kentucky Division of Abandoned Mine Lands,” Whitlatch said. “Our community has seen a significant loss in jobs due to the decline in coal and steel and recently experienced another loss with the closure of Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital. These funds will help mitigate these economic impacts while also ensuring our community has access to world-class health care.”
As part of its commitment to the health and well-being of the region, King’s Daughters committed an additional $1 million to the expansion project.
The two projects were the first of the 2020 AML Pilot applications to be selected for funding by Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman. More than 70 applications were received by the cabinet’s Division of Abandoned Mine Lands seeking funding through this year’s AML Pilot program to revitalize the coalfields in Kentucky’s Appalachian region through economic development. Since 2016, 43 projects in 21 counties have been selected for funding through the program.
“I am thrilled to be able to approve these two projects to create jobs and improve health care in Eastern Kentucky, especially as this administration acts to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Secretary Goodman said. “The expansion of the Pikeville Medical Center Cancer Center and the new medical equipment at King’s Daughters Hospital will improve access to quality health care for Kentuckians and continue our goal of creating a better Kentucky for all residents when we emerge from this pandemic.”
During the summit, the Governor also announced that the section of US 460 from the intersection with KY 80 at Beaver, near Elkhorn City, to the Virginia state line is set to officially open to traffic Nov. 16.
“This is another infrastructure project that improves safety and creates opportunities for a better economy in an area that needs it the most,” Gov. Beshear said. “I know this is welcomed news to the folks in the eastern half of Pike County. The road and the off ramp have been finished for a couple of years except for final paving, striping, signage and guardrail – and we are getting it done.”
Gov. Beshear and Congressman Rogers also announced Colby Hall as the new executive director of SOAR. Hall, a native of Somerset and a University of Kentucky graduate, will guide the agency, which is focused on moving the Appalachian region forward through entrepreneurship and innovation.
This week alone, Gov. Beshear announced more than $6.6 million in Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grants. Six projects in Central and Eastern Kentucky and another seven projects in Eastern Kentucky communities will update infrastructure, bolster education, spur economic development, improve health care and improve workforce training.
The Governor said this fiscal year Kentucky has received the largest ARC investment in a single state in decades, totaling more than $36.5 million. The funding supports 34 projects to improve economic diversification in Kentucky’s 54 Appalachian counties, many of which are affected by the changing economics of America’s energy production.
The Governor said he is committed to building a better, stronger Eastern Kentucky and to seeing real gains achieved in the region.