It wasn’t exactly a surprise given its purchase of a 135-acre site off Halstead Boulevard Extended several years ago. But Sentara Healthcare’s announcement last week that it plans to build a new state-of-the-art hospital in Elizabeth City by 2024 was great news, particularly in a year when there’s been so little of it.

Sentara plans to build the $158 million hospital on a new campus on the site it owns near the Halstead Boulevard-Thunder Road intersection, replacing the 60-year-old former Albemarle Hospital building it now leases from Pasquotank County. Two other medical office buildings will also be built on the site: a new radiation oncology and cancer care center and a building for hospital outpatient services.

Sentara’s investment in a new hospital is great news for the Elizabeth City community for a number of reasons.

First, there’s the obvious benefit of having a new hospital filled with the latest in high-tech equipment available for residents’ health care. Sentara Albemarle President Phil Jackson in fact cited having a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility as a way to increase the hospital’s patient volume. Sentara has competition from Chesapeake Regional Health Care and other hospital systems to the north and Vidant Health to the south; having a new hospital here may keep more patients from traveling out of the area for health care. It also could draw some patients north of Elizabeth City to come here.

Sentara’s plan to increase services at the new hospital could also help more local residents choose to stay closer to home for their health care. Although he didn’t have a long list, Jackson said the new hospital will offer additional services. He mentioned stereotactic radiosurgery, or SRS, a non-surgical radiation therapy used to treat functional abnormalities and small tumors of the brain. He also said the hospital’s labor and delivery department will get an upgrade, and specialties like urology and gastrointestinal services could also be added.

A new hospital with additional services could also go along way to counter the perception among many locals that Sentara Albemarle has become a “feeder” hospital for Sentara’s larger facilities in Virginia.

Secondly, Sentara’s decision to build a new hospital will free up a large tract of county-owned land on North Road Street for possible commercial development. The existing hospital facility, although it’s had upgrades over the years, isn’t likely useable for much of anything else. While no final decisions have been made, county officials say tearing down the existing hospital is the likeliest scenario. The property, which fronts the river, could then be cleared and marketed for development as high-end condominiums that would add to the county’s tax base.

The deal the county struck to allow Sentara to exit its 30-year lease of the current hospital also seems fair. Under its terms, Sentara will put $38 million in escrow to cover its lease payments while the new 110-bed facility is being built. Once the hospital is completed, the county will receive from that account between $28 million — if it takes longer to build the hospital — and $32 million — if the construction goes quicker.

Sentara also has agreed to lease 3 acres of its property at the new hospital site for Pasquotank County to build a new state-of-the-art facility for Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Medical Services. The lease is for $1 a year for 50 years. County officials expect the new EMS building to cost around $4 million, and money for the project is already in hand. It will come out of the $6.4 million the county received in hospital lease payments in 2019.

Providing quality health care is obviously a high-cost venture. Providing that care in rural areas can be even more costly. It’s also can be potentially risky given the ever-changing reimbursement and other rules health systems face. We’d like to thank Sentara Healthcare for deciding to take on those risks and invest in our future by giving our community a brand new hospital. We look forward to the groundbreaking.

— The Daily Advance