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War Memorial Hospital and Valley Health Disappointed by Effort to Prevent Replacement Hospital
(July 21, 2009) The Morgan County Commission’s plan to sell the assets of War Memorial Hospital to Valley Health, and Valley Health’s commitment to build a long-awaited replacement hospital in Berkeley Springs, were both placed on indefinite hold as West Virginia University Hospitals-East filed a notice of opposition to the application now pending before the West Virginia Health Care Authority (HCA).
The effort by WVU Hospitals–East to delay or kill the transfer and building project generated concern among residents of Morgan County who have looked forward with great anticipation to a replacement for their 62-year old hospital. The economic stimulus provided by a construction project in excess of $30 million may also now be at risk.
Opposition to the application came as a huge disappointment to Valley Health and War Memorial officials. A public hearing is now required, which will delay start of the project by a potential minimum of six months and will likely add to its cost. Valley Health has managed War Memorial for Morgan County since 1989.
“Valley Health has earned the respect of the citizens of this region,” says Neil McLaughlin, president of War Memorial Hospital. “They have been an excellent partner in supporting and advancing the services we offer here. And we see the exciting things they’re doing in Hampshire County and say ‘That could be us.’”
On July 6, Valley Health broke ground on a 65,000 square foot replacement hospital for Hampshire County in Romney. The new facility, similar to what is proposed for Berkeley Springs, will be completed in 2011.
It is still possible for WVU Hospitals-East, which represents City Hospital in Martinsburg and Jefferson Hospital in Ranson, to withdraw its opposition. Should they, a decision on Valley Health’s acquisition and construction could be received from the HCA by mid-August. If approved, work on the replacement hospital and nursing home could begin in early 2010.
A concerted effort is underway by Valley Health, War Memorial and Morgan County officials to learn from Albert Pilkington, CEO for WVU Hospitals-East, the grounds for their opposition, and why they have chosen to hinder economic development and delay improving healthcare in a neighboring county.
Morgan County Commissioners requested proposals to acquire the assets of the facility in the fall of 2008. McLaughlin calls the WVUH-East stoppage “puzzling” since they were afforded two time extensions by the County to prepare a bid. Governor Joe Manchin even met with West Virginia United Health System president J. Thomas Jones to encourage WVU Hospitals to submit an offer of its own. Despite this encouragement, and the requested delays, WVU Hospitals chose not to bid.
In its proposal, Valley Health made a commitment to build a replacement hospital at an estimated cost of more than $30 million. The proposal also included a cash sum at closing, lease payments on the current hospital buildings until a new hospital is constructed, and loan forgiveness for the land where the new hospital will be built. These additional commitments are worth nearly $4.2 million.
“This is a tough economy and the people of Morgan County know how important this hospital project is,” says McLaughlin. “We really want to get construction workers on this project as soon as possible. They are hungry for work and this will be a real boost.” The prospect of unwarranted delay until mid-2010, or the possible collapse of the project altogether, troubles local business and government leaders.
“I assure you, Valley Health wants to move forward with this project,” says McLaughlin. “The interest that Valley Health has in Morgan County is no different from the interest it has in other communities throughout the region. We want to continue to provide excellent diagnostic and primary health care services to area residents. As our population keeps growing and aging, pressure mounts for a new hospital. “
McLaughlin notes, “Now is the time to build a replacement hospital – the County Commissioners favor it, the community supports it and Valley Health is committed to it. We trust that WVU Hospitals-East understands it, steps back, and lets us take care of our community while they take care of theirs.”
Todd Way, Valley Health senior vice president, notes the long history of cooperation between Valley Health and Morgan County War Memorial Hospital. “We have had a contract to manage the hospital for 20 years and we know the community well,” says Way. “The staff is excellent, but they struggle to work efficiently in a 62-year old building. Everyone – doctors, patients and staff – will benefit from the new hospital. This delay is needless and punishes the people of Morgan County.”
Valley Health, a non-profit health system with 5,000 employees and nearly 500 physicians, operates Winchester Medical Center, Warren Memorial Hospital, Shenandoah Memorial Hospital and Page Memorial Hospital in Virginia, and Hampshire Memorial Hospital in Romney, West Virginia.