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Rep. Bill Johnson Tours Belmont County Industry, Medical Sites

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio toured a Belmont County industry and eye care site when he visited the area Tuesday to learn more about the potential of the area, issues important to voters, and the needs and services available.
Martins Ferry Times Leader
By Robert DeFrank
Published January 26, 2022

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio toured a Belmont County industry and eye care site when he visited the area Tuesday to learn more about the potential of the area, issues important to voters, and the needs and services available.

This followed a ride-along with Steubenville police earlier that day.

He first stopped in St. Clairsville to visit the new Physicians Regional Surgery Center at 103 Plaza Drive in St. Clairsville. Dr. Raymond Bannan outlined the range of services, including cataract surgery.

Bannan said some procedures can last 10 minutes with the patient awake and still wearing their street clothes during the procedure.

“We’ve come a long way,” Bannan said, adding the need is great. He noted the aging population and said close to 80% of the public can expect to develop cataracts.

“On a busy day we’ll do up to 20 of them,” Bannan said. “We did 12 (Monday). It was our first official day operating. … We’re busy with them. We’ll probably be doing about 2,000 cases in a year.”

He added that the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation recently surveyed the facility. This could mean an expansion of services in the future.

“They certified that we meet or surpass the standards set forth for even hospital operations. This gives us the ability to do any kind of ambulatory surgery here. We’re concentrating on eyes initially, but any surgery that can be done on an outpatient basis can be done here eventually, if we decide to open it up to some of our fellow physicians,” he said.

Johnson asked if he could be allowed to sit in during a surgery.

“I’d love to see how you operate in real time,” he said.

Bannan also maintains offices in Bellaire and Triadelphia. He said the St. Clairsville office is purely for surgeries, not for seeing patients. He said about 12 people are employed full-time at the St. Clairsville office.

Bannan commended Lori Pyles, nurse manager, for her work.

“We want to get recognized in the area. We want to recruit more doctors,” Pyles said, adding there are few in the area that provide ambulatory surgery in a convenient location.

Bannan added issues surrounding the supply chain have not been a major obstacle.

“We had everything on-order before COVID hit,” he said. “Some medical supplies are in short supply.”

Later that afternoon, Johnson visited MPR Supply Chain Solutions, where President Natalie Brown outlined the company’s ongoing expansion. She said the investment was estimated at $9.5 million, with 50 acres of riverside property acquired in 2021 from the north of Bellaire to the county’s new water treatment plant.

“We were able to put three different parcels together,” Brown said.

“We’d like to expand off the rail,” she said, pointing out rail access at several locations. Plans include trans-loading off of rail.

“We know if we build rail, we think we will get some opportunities,” she said. “We’ve had people come to us in the past. It’s never worked out because … we’ve had limited access (to the rail).”

Dave Humphries, CEO of MPR, added rail and river transportation could become more important if the truck driver shortage continues.

Brown toured the property with Johnson and pointed out ongoing work restoring buildings on the property to act as a warehouse and office space.

“This opens the door to some big dreams,” Johnson said.

Johnson also noted the business is about 10 miles from Dillies Bottom on Ohio 7, where PTT Global Chemical America is considering placing an ethane cracker plant.

“It’s still very much in play, it’s just got set back because of COVID,” Johnson said.

Johnson noted the importance of visiting and talking to constituents from all walks of life to better understand the area’s needs. He said some of the common concerns include inflation.

“People are talking about the price of gas at the pumps. The price of groceries on the shelves. That’s if you can even find groceries on the shelf, because the price to transport groceries to the store is skyrocketing,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that he has found many businesses are having difficulty getting back to normal operations, since many in the public have seemingly chosen to abandon the work force or are dissuaded from employment by the possibility of vaccine or mask mandates.

“I’m hoping we can incentivize people to come back to work,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to learn to live with COVID and be productive. … People here in eastern and southeastern Ohio, we’re hard-working people, we’re resilient.”