Friday, October 23, 2009

Valley Health / WVU-H discord on War Mem'l Hospital will be resolved in late January 2010?

Hearing focused on size & services of new hospital
by Kate Shunney - 10/21/2009
The Morgan Messenger

Officials from Valley Health Systems and WVU Hospitals rolled out their competing visions of a new War Memorial Hospital when they and their lawyers appeared before the state’s Health Care Authority in Charleston last Tuesday.

That body will determine if Morgan County can sell its license to operate War Memorial Hospital to Valley Health, and if Valley Health can proceed with their plans to build a new $30 million hospital in Berkeley Springs.

Their decision is expected in January 2010 at the earliest.

All those involved in last week’s public hearing told The Morgan Messenger they felt the process was fair and thorough, and each of the participants got a chance to raise their key issues before the health care board.

Hearing was “routine”

Tom Jones, president and CEO of West Virginia United Health Systems, said the certificate of need hearing was “routine” and short compared to some he has attended.

His testimony on behalf of WVU Hospitals focused on three main issues: the size of the proposed hospital, the financial viability of the facility and the fairness of the bidding process.

“Although we had concerns about the certificate of need that was presented by Valley Health, we all agreed there is a need for a new hospital,” Jones said on Monday.

“The important thing is to recognize the needs of Morgan County for a hospital and, one way or another, get to that end,” he said.

If the current proposal doesn’t get the okay from the Health Care Authority, Jones said West Virginia University Hospitals would be interested in making a hospital proposal to Morgan County officials.

“If there was a request for proposal that was put out that would allow us to respond in a way that was appropriate, we’d do that,” Jones said.

He emphasized that his company has already spent $80,000 and many man-hours studying Morgan County’s health needs and drafting proposals for a new War Memorial Hospital.

“If the decision goes the other way, we’ll get on with life,” Jones said.

Despite the fact that the public hearing was prompted by Jefferson Memorial Hospital and City Hospital claiming status as “affected parties” in War Memorial’s future plans, officials from those hospitals didn’t testify at the October 6 hearing.

Jones is the head of the health care system that oversees West Virginia University’s hospitals in Fairmont, Morgantown, Martinsburg and Jefferson County.

No new issues

War Memorial Hospital President Neil McLaughlin said questions raised at the hearing were ones he has anticipated.

“We’ve been so over and under this project, it would have been difficult to come up with a question we didn’t expect,” he said.

McLaughlin felt there were three major disagreements about a hospital plan.

He said West Virginia University Hospitals questioned the need for 25 beds instead of 15 beds. He said they argued a new hospital would need only one, not two operating rooms as planned. WVU Hospitals officials also questioned the viability of having a nursing home in the new facility.

McLaughlin agreed that the nursing home component of the hospital would not be the most profitable part of the facility, but said it is key to the mission of War Memorial Hospital.

“People wouldn’t be waiting on a waiting list for the nursing home except this is where people want to be if they have to be in a nursing home,” he said.

McLaughlin said downsizing the hospital to 15 beds would be like building a two-bedroom home for a family with twins on the way.

“We’d have to really consider whether moving into a 15-bed facility would work, whether it’s a project we’d be willing to finance and build,” he said.

In order for War Memorial Hospital to retain its legal status as a critical access hospital, a new facility would have to maintain 75% of the current services, retain 75% of its employees and serve 75% of its current clients, said McLaughlin.

Cutting rooms, hospital size or doing away with the nursing home component would jeopardize that critical access status, he said.

McLaughlin said WVU Hospitals conceded that Morgan County needs a new hospital, but they seemed to suggest they could offer a better alternative to the Valley Health proposal already accepted by the Morgan County Commissioners.

In the end, the Health Care Authority must evaluate Valley Health’s plans on two key features — whether it meets the State Health Plan and is financially feasible, McLaughlin said.

Support was impressive

County Commission President Brenda Hutchinson, who also testified at the hearing, said officials there were impressed by the show of support for a new War Memorial Hospital.

“I think it went very well. I have confidence they’ll weigh the evidence and make a fair decision,” she said of the Health Care Authority.

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