A new era: Officials break ground for new Riverland hospital
NATCHEZ — A new era in health care in Concordia Parish began Thursday with groundbreaking for the new Riverland Medical Center.
Local and state leaders celebrated the beginning of construction Thursday for a new $36 million hospital with a large crowd of people on the site of the new facility on U.S. 84.
“The future of health care is starting in our parish today. It really is,” hospital board chairman Jim Graves said.
Construction of the 61,000 square-foot hospital and 17,000 square-foot medical office building is expected to take 16 to 18 months.
Graves thanked all who helped make the project possible, including the Concordia Parish Police Jury, which has been supportive of the project “the whole way,” Graves said.
The project is being funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, new market tax credits, the State of Louisiana and local bank financing.
Graves said the project has been more than five years in the making, but didn’t happen until Dr. Carrie Castille, USDA Rural Development Director for the State of Louisiana, came on board.
Last year, USDA approved a loan application of $30 million to build the new facility.
“We were stuck in the mud about a year and a half ago until Dr. Castille showed up. Then we went into four-wheel drive and bought an extra winch,” Graves told the crowd. “We have been blowin’ and goin’ ever since.”
Castille said the project is an important one that will make a lasting impact on the community.
“This is going to be a legacy project,” Castille said.
The project is important because of its importance to the rural infrastructure, Castille said.
“Not just the physical infrastructure but the human infrastructure,” Castille said.
Castille said the project is a testament to the hard work of the community, the partnerships that have been made to fund the project and the commitment of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue to rural infrastructure projects.
Rep. Andy Anders, D-Vidalia, who introduced Castille, said access to health care is vital to any community.
“Whatever you have, you have to have education and you have to have health care,” Anders said. “That is very important for the development of any area.”
Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, agreed.
“If you are going to have economic development, and you are going to have the continuation of a community that is not going to dry up, you have to have health care, you have to have infrastructure, you have to have water, you have to have this highway out here,” Riser said.
Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, said the new hospital is a model project for the state.
“(Riverland Medical Center is) an example of what we are doing in Madison Parish, probably Richland Parish, probably on up into Lake Providence and maybe even south,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the new hospital is also an example of Louisiana’s success in rural health care.
“We are the only state that I know of in the region in the South that hasn’t lost a rural hospital to economic times.” Thompson said. “It means a lot to me that this is a wonderful opportunity to grow this community even more.”
Thompson said the community should be applauded for its tenacity and persistence even when others doubted the community needed a new hospital.
“When we first started (the project), there wasn’t too much interest in it and everybody thought the hospital that we already had might work,” Thompson said.
Through the hard work of Graves, the hospital staff and many others, Thompson said the new hospital became a reality.
“It is a new beginning,” Thomspon said.
Riser agreed with Thompson.
“Of all of the projects I have worked on in the state, this is truly the one that I have seen the most participation, the most expression, the most open debate about what it could be,” Riser said. “Everybody finally came together.”