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    Posted August 7, 2015 by
    janelson

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    OMNI Homestead Resort in Hot Springs Still Puts People Before Profits

     
    While Americans rise in anger over the elitist attitude of large corporations, one internationally known resort in the mountains of Virginia continues to demonstrate that putting people before profits is still a profitable way to do business.

    The Hotel

    Still known regionally as “The Homestead,” the principal employer in Bath County is the “Omni Homestead Resort.”

    The hotel wasn’t always part of the Omni chain. For most of its existence it was privately owned and operated.

    What would become an universally known, world-class resort, was first built ten years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The modern resort dates from the 1888 - 1892 timeframe when a group of investors, headed by J.P. Morgan, bought the business and started to rebuild from the basement up. A bakery fire in 1901 burned down the original buildings. The main lobby visitors enter today was built in 1903.

    The hotel has always been well known — and visited — by the rich and famous. Almost every American President since William Howard Taft have been guests. There’s been no shortage of Hollywood celebrities, millionaires and then billionaires, internationally famous, and infamous have enjoyed “high tea” in the Great Lobby every weekday at 4pm; a tradition that continues.

    Despite the high-powered guests, the Homestead has always put people before profits. Most of the county’s 4,000+ residents have been employed directly by the hotel; many of the other residents were employed in businesses that were a support to the hotel.


    Many boys spent their summers playing baseball because of the hotel’s community interest. Winter time saw local school kids receive price breaks on ice-skating and skiing at the resort. Every year, for decades, the Homestead hosted a few hundred pimply faced teenagers as they enjoyed their Junior & Senior Proms, first in the Commonwealth Room and later in the new convention center.

    Nothing the Homestead did for the community was done with the idea of turning a profit. It was the Homestead’s fundamental way of showing the community the company appreciated them. Long before “do the right thing” became a slogan from Madison Avenue, The Homestead took an active life in the region simply because it was the right thing to do.

    Stephen Terry, spokesman for the Concerned Citizens, a hospital watchdog group, said, “The Homestead has always looked after the citizens of the county. Homestead money has put many a person through college.”




    The Community

    Bath County is the third or fourth least populous county, depending on your source, in Virginia. State Highway 220 is, by default, the main artery into, and out of Bath. Formed in 1790 from parts of Augusta, Botetourt and Greenbrier counties, Bath is located along the central western border with West Virginia and is one of four counties in Virginia without a traffic signal.

    Originally a hunting ground shared by several tribes, the county has numerous mineral springs that early Indians knew of and used.

    One story is told about an Indian traveling through the area in winter and saved himself from sure death by spending the night, in a blizzard, submerged up to his neck in one of the springs

    The communities reflect the ancestry of the people. Scotch-Irish came and built unpretentious homes along the foothills and in the mountain hollows and their heritage is still reflected in the 535 square miles that make up the county.


    220 takes a person past farms fields, into, and out of, the National Forest and through the occasional village sprinkled along the highway.

    Hot Springs, the county’s main village has one street. Locals used to joke that the name of the village’s only street was “Plum Street,” because it went from one end of town ‘plum’ through to the other.


    Never a rich place, the median income for a household in the county is $35,000. Six-hundred students attent two elementary schools and one high school, reflecting the shrinking population of citizens. The people that have lived here for years, the “homegrowns,” are getting older with the oldest starting to die off, only to be replaced by wealthier families who began migrating into the county in the 1970s; the timeframe The Homestead began Northridge, a private community located adjacent to The Homestead’s Old Course in Hot Springs.

    Some of the homegrown point to the start of Northridge as the beginning of the problems which are coming to the forefront today.

    Most locals say that the early purchasers in Northridge weren’t a problem. The first buyers worked hard at assimilating themselves into the mountain community. It was those that came in the 1990s, and after, that started to insist that the community change to meet their needs.

    Tourists

    Bath County’s economy has always centered around tourism. The first hotel was built by Thomas Bullitt in 1766 to accommodate the visitors who would come to “take the waters,” as bathing in the springs was called. Even in the early years, his guests included Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

    Visitors found the mountain air refreshing and eventually summer homes were built. Entire families would settle in one of the many bungalows that were constructed in the vicinity of Bullitt’s hotel.

    Eventually, many of those tourists chose to become settlers and as they enjoyed the mountain lifestyle , they adapted themselves. Leaving behind the rush of city life, they slid smoothly into the manner of the county and country living.



    The Conflict Continues to Boil

    The tension between the homegrown that have lived in the county for decades and the johnny-come-lately’s, those that started arriving in the 1990s, or after, has become focused on the local hospital.

    In the fall of 2014, the hospital administrator, Jason Paret, a late arrival to the county, made the decision not to renew the contract of Dr. James Redington, a long-term resident and local physician. Paret’s decision sparked thunder in the mountains which led to the first sign-waving protest seen in the county in almost 50 years. An outburst of support was next as over 400 people gathered at the local high school and spoke out against the hospital’s governing body.

    Lines were drawn in the sand and the locals and late arrivals chose sides. When the dust cleared, Paret was given his walking papers with a severance package of two years’ salary and a new pickup truck, the Chairman of the Board, David Troast, stepped down, claiming he had been victimized and the board let Redington return to practice.

    Bath Community Hospital has been the “go-to” place for decades for people living in the county, but many residents say that’s not the case anymore.

    "I've lived here my whole life and this is our health care. Any time I've needed stitches or needed health care this is where I go,” Kathleen Essex, a county resident, told WDBJ Television

    A frequently heard complaint about the hospital Board is the lack of openness and transparency. Even when Redington’s contract was not renewed, the board failed to reach out and let the community know what was happening.

    Patients say they learned of the terminations and resignations through word of mouth. They say the hospital never reached out to them informing them of the changes.
    "It's just unreal the way the people in the community are getting treated," Carl Chestnut told WDBJ.
    Most residents put the blame for the internal strife directly at the feet of the hospital’s board and administration. Most inhabitants are afraid for their health and safety as the number of medical staff continues to dwindle.

    "The long-standing health of this community has been put in jeopardy for basically being able to turn a bigger profit,” Danny Cardwell told WDBJ.
    Following Redington’s reinstatement, the Concerned Citizens Group dialed the rhetoric down a notch and decided to give the board some breathing room to do the “right thing”

    The board never did the right thing and the citizens group geared up for another battle.

    “I fully expect the [Homestead] hotel to step up to the plate for the residents of Bath County and surrounding areas, they always have in the past,” said Terry.


    The First Step of Activism

    Bath County has never been the forefront of protests and demonstrations. The residents have always taken a go-along-to-get-along attitude. Without a history of protest, it’s not surprising that the first motions of protest were faltering.

    A “Rally in the Valley” was held and it was the first demonstration of its kind in the county during the last five decades. The last time the county ever witnessed such an act of disagreement was in the early 70s when the high school students staged a walkout in protest over the firing of the principal.

    Green when it comes to using social media in activism, more faltering steps followed.




    The idea of using social media via Twitter was considered briefly, and then discarded. 140 characters just wasn’t enough to get the correct message across, and after all, it wasn’t the group’s intention to hurt The Homestead.

    Things were more successful on Facebook.

    A Facebook Page, Save Bath County Hospital, was started in 2014 in response to the hospital’s failure to renew Redington’s contract.

    Serving as a clearinghouse for information, the page grew rapidly to over 800 members – a considerable quantity for the bucolic region.

    Whatever the Concerned Citizens Group is doing, it has had some effect on county residents.

    “The area’s hospital benefactors are starting to get involved with our [the CCG] group by way of phone calls and attending meetings. The main train of thought is that their wallets are closed until this issue is resolved,” said Terry.

    Concerned Citizens Calls for Another Meeting

    The quintessential intersection of locals and the late arrivals who tried to change too much, too quick, happens August 13 in the county high school.

    At stake is nothing less than the future of healthcare in the mountain community.

    Some local observers say that Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, just down the road in Roanoke, Virginia, is eyeing the local hospital as a feeder into the bigger facility 80 miles away.

    The relatively steady group of concerned citizens believes that one major concern is the hospital devolving into an Urgent Care facility, resulting in the elimination of the medical staff. Already there has been some talk from the hospital’s Board of Directors about moving totally to “rent-a-doc,” or contract physician services, and one, a Dr. Barbara, is already contracted as a hospitalist out of Florida


    “Bath Community Hospital ought to know better than anyone that Band-aids don't fix bullet holes! Ignoring the situation and refusing to meet with the Concerned Citizens Group will not make this situation go away no matter how much money they spend on high priced attorneys and PR firms,” said Terry.

    “We also would like to see the Homestead look into this situation since this affects the healthcare of their employees as well as guests.”
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