Marietta-based health system plans a $20 million expansion in Athens

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — At a time when rural communities throughout the country are losing access to healthcare because of hospital closures, Athens is about to see a significant expansion in healthcare services.

Three doctors stand in a diagonal line. You can only see their torsos. The front one holds a stethoscope, the middle one has their arms crossed and the back one holds a medical chart.

Next July, Memorial Health System of Marietta plans to open a four-story medical center on Columbus Road. Memorial Health already operates two medical offices in Athens, one offering primary care and the other offering specialty services. Athens is also home to O’Bleness Hospital, operated by OhioHealth, which also runs a nearby urgent care facility, as well as another urgent care facility operated by Holzer.

According to the 2020 census, Athens County has a population of 62,431, down 3.6% from a decade ago, while the population of the city of Athens has remained stagnant.

Nevertheless, Jennifer Offenberger, associate vice president of service excellence at Memorial Health System, said there is demand for the expanded services Memorial is planning to offer.

“We believe we that we have the patient base, and we have heard from people who can’t wait to have our services in Athens County. People are very excited to have that option,” Offenberger said. “When you hear from the voices of the community, when you hear from our patients and our providers that there is a need and they want those options, we look forward to providing that.”

The Columbus Road facility will not provide inpatient care and those who require it will be transported to Memorial Health’s main facility in Marietta.

“Memorial Health System is unique in that we are still an independent health system, making our own decisions about care delivery options,” Offenberger said. “We want to make those decisions for care locally. We don’t want people to have to go to a hub that’s two hours away to receive care.”

Memorial’s new medical center will cost $20 million to complete and will offer a variety of outpatient services in addition to emergency care, including obstetrics and gynecology, lab services, CT scanning, X-ray services and ultrasound.

The second and third floors will house physician clinics and other outpatient radiology procedures, and the fourth floor will be for surgical procedures and outpatient services.

OhioHealth and Holzer were asked to share their thoughts regarding how much room there is in the local market for more medical facilities.

“While we can’t speak to the other health systems’ offerings, what we can share is that OhioHealth provides a comprehensive array of services to the residents of Athens,” said an OhioHealth spokesperson. “We are able to keep high quality care close to home for our patients by offering numerous medical specialties in Athens.”

WOUB left multiple messages with Holzer but did not receive a response by the time this story was published.