Health, wellness initiative coming

ST. CLAIRSVILLE A major initiative in promoting health and wellness for a well-traveled and populous region of the county will be coming to the area in the form of the St. Clair Commons. The core buildings, which will be a clinic and quality of life center, may open in 2015. Plans are in the works to make use of a 90-acre tract of land with 40-45 developable acres. Discussions with city officials began several years ago and they noted the importance of access to health care, particularly in the rural areas of the state.

Representatives from The Ohio State University, area doctors, the county commissioners, hospitals and doctors met during a round table discussion to review the plans and the value such a project can offer.

After being welcomed by St. Clairsville Mayor Robert Vincenzo, Managing Partner Rob Stein described the initial plans in 2011.

“By 2012, thanks to local leadership and state leaders and your colleagues at the colleges of medicine and nursing we began translating this dream into a concrete shared vision for an innovate, integrated, person-centered, prevention-oriented, health and quality of life campus,” he said, noting that in 2013 they were beginning to form solid plans and final operating agreements.

He added that in 2014, the planners hope to begin work on the infrastructure.

As of the date of the round table discussion, an official cost estimate has not been provided. A more detailed announcement will be presented this fall.

“We are working very, very hard to be able to finalize all of our agreements and to make public announcements this fall,” Stein said.

Officials note that concerns over health have been borne out by studies which showed that the rate of diabetes is 12.5 percent in a nine-county region, which includes Belmont County. In Ohio and the US the rate is 9.5 and 8.6 respectively. Of those with diabetes, the rate of diagnosis before the age of 40 is 49.2 percent in the nine-county region and 19 percent nationally.

“We all know that America has a health care crisis,” Stein said. “The residents of St. Clairsville and Belmont and the surrounding counties are not alone in leading lives that put far too many of us at risk for chronic disease, many of which are avoidable, and getting these diseases too early in our lives and having to live with them far too long.”

He pointed out such fallout as reduced quality of life and increased health expenses.

“Our mission at St. Clair Commons is to augment the existing health and well-being resources in this community,” he said.

“We’re proud that this area has fine in-patient medical facilities and doctors who care well for people when they’ve gotten sick,” he said, adding that a commitment to integrated primary care, early diagnosis, care coordination, and a focus on prevention is also necessary.

The commons will boast services to help and encourage people to lead a healthy way of life. They will also offer early detection and assist people with chronic ailments to find solutions less dependent on costly procedures and that improve the quality of life.

“Enhancing quality of life is a community endeavor. This is why St. Clair Commons is being designed and will be operated as a fully integrated public, private, academic and non-profit partnership that is a shared vision designed by multiple stakeholders,” he said.

Ohio State is not a financial investor in the commons, but it is providing expertise in almost all aspects of the envisioned construct of the campus and its network of community care teams that will provide greater access to care, prevention and management of chronic diseases and other health concerns. Stein thanked the university for its leadership.

The commons will help in organizing and coordinating existing best practices, as well as work with community-based organizations such as schools and churches.

“We’re not inventing all kinds of new things. We’re culling for all the wonderful things that are going on in other parts of the county,” Stein said.

OSU Interim President Joe Alutto said a commitment to such projects was in accord with their mission of generating knowledge and applying it for the public good.

“This is perfect example,” he said. “This has impact on the daily lives of the citizens of Ohio. It’s not just theoretical.”

“Our goal is to improve the lives of other people,” said Dr. Clay B. March of OSU pointed out the opportunity to wed the university’s knowledge and capabilities with the community and community leaders. He noted the important of creating an environment conducive to health lifestyles. “The model of health is not ‘come to the clinic’ or ‘come to the hospital,’ it’s what you do in your real life.”

Michelle Wilson, executive director of the area YMCA, described the services related to health that her organization offers. She observed the potential of the commons. Dr. Tim McKnight with Trinity Health Systems and Dr. Ali Melhem, president of Integrated Health Solutions, noted the value of organization in promoting health initiatives. Polly Loy, educator with Family and Consumer Services at OSU Extension Office, agreed.

Gary E. Gray, architect with Davis Wince, ltd, presented the master plan, beginning with the health and wellness community and senior living. Community gardens are planned, along with an amphitheatre, a lake, and orchards.

“We’ve developed a land plan that is a village. We want this to be an extension of a wonderful community that’s already here: St. Clairsville. We want this to reflect the values of the people that are here,” he said.

Commissioner Matt Coffland added that several developers have come to the table in the past six months.

Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile noted the value of health concerns along with the rebuilding economy.

“I believe this will be the greatest thing that’s happened in the city of St. Clairsville in the last 100 years,” said Vincenzo.

DeFrank can be reached at