GRACEVILLE - Northwest Florida Community Hospital is hoping the upcoming January legislative session will pave the way for the company, operating under Northwest Florida Health Care Inc., to purchase the Campbellton-Graceville Hospital.

Currently, NFCH is leasing the health clinic located on the now-shuttered hospital campus. The clinic closed down for two days in September before NFCH took over operations.

"We know that there is a need for healthcare in that community, and we are looking to expand services there," said NFCH CEO Michael Kozar.

Part of that expansion would include a walk-in clinic that would be open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, as well as implementing laboratory and radiology services.

The hospital itself, which filed bankruptcy in May and closed its doors June 30, remains vacant.

A tentative purchase deal was reached earlier this summer, but it fell through after the approval by the Attorney General was not granted as NFCH had requested.

"There first has to be a change in the legislation that created the Campbellton-Graceville Hospital District," explained Kozar. "Currently, the verbiage says it can be leased but not sold. We are hoping that one piece of language can be amended in the upcoming session so that we may purchase the hospital."

But while a legislative amendment would allow the hospital's purchase, statistics show the community may not be able to support the facility as a traditional hospital.

According to a study by Alliant Management Services, Campbellton-Graceville Hospital's emergency room visits totaled just 1,789 in 2016, compared to about 12,000 emergency room visits to NFCH the same year.

Kozar says NFCH is looking to fill another kind of need in the community through the purchase, however, by repurposing the hospital as an in-patient mental health facility.

"Currently, there are no in-patient mental health treatment facilities locally," said Kozar. "Patients in Holmes, Washington, and Jackson counties are having to travel at least an hour away for care. There a great need in our area for this kind of service."

At its final closing, Campbellton-Graceville Hospital forfeited less than 50 jobs in the area. Kozar estimates the proposed mental health facility, which would serve patients such as those suffering from Alzheimers, would create about 100 jobs and save local sheriff's and emergency departments on annual transportation costs for Baker Act and other mental health patients. Locally, those costs totaled about $50,000 in Washington County last year alone.

"We are willing to invest because we see the need," said Kozar.

Initial figures put the investment at more than half a million dollars should the purchase be made final.