WHEELING, W.Va. — WVU Medicine continues its growth in the Mountain State with an agreement announced Thursday that it will take over the management of Wheeling Hospital.

Under the agreement, Wheeling Hospital’s Board of Directors will continue to govern the hospital while WVU Medicine will manage it day-to-day under new chief executive officer Douglass Harrison.

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Albert Wright

“We are grateful to the Board and the Archdiocese for the trust they have placed in our team to help manage Wheeling Hospital and ensure it continues to serve the people of Wheeling for generations to come,” West Virginia University Health System President and CEO Albert Wright said in a news release. “The hospital and its employees will be in great hands with Doug at the helm.”

Wright told MetroNews a change at Wheeling Hospital and at the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese opened the door for the agreement.

“We started to work with the board of directors there and Archbishop (William) Lori. Hopefully this is a win for Wheeling Hospital, I know it is for WVU Medicine. We are going to start to bring them closer to the health care system as we work towards that goal of improving the health of the state of West Virginia,” Wright said.

Harrison has served as an executive vice president with WVU Medicine for the past four years. His experience in health care management includes 11 years as an executive at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

WVU Medicine

Douglass Harrison

“I am honored to be chosen for this position, and I am looking forward to meeting, getting to know, and working alongside the leadership, medical staff, and employees of Wheeling Hospital,” Harrison, a Milton native, said. “I know that I am coming into a hospital that has a long history of caring for the residents of the Northern Panhandle and Eastern Ohio, and it is my goal to make sure it remains a provider of high quality healthcare long into the future.”

Wheeling Hospital interim CEO Kareen Simon will return to her former position of executive vice president and COO immediately.

WVU Medicine already has regional hubs in Bridgeport, Parkersburg and Martinsburg. Wright said he views the Wheeling Hospital agreement in the same way.

“There are a lot of good medical services and physicians in that area working in that hospital,” Wright said.

Federal prosecutors announced back in March they had intervened in a whistleblower lawsuit against Wheeling Hospital. Prosecutors said they agreed with claims that the hospital solidified its finances by overpaying physicians who then steered millions of dollars in services back to the hospital.

Wright said Thursday the lawsuit was a Wheeling Hospital board issue.

“We’ll learn more about that in the coming weeks. We will make sure everything is in compliance from our standpoint as we take management control and we’ll review any physician contracts to make sure they meet fair market value standards,” Wright said. “We’ll get in there, we’ll roll our sleeves up, we’ll see if there’s any operational efficiencies we can help with, if there are any physician holes we can help with.”

The agreement brings to six the number of hospitals now managed by WVU Medicine. The system itself is made up of nine hospitals including Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. It’s the largest hospital system in the state and the state’s largest private employer. There are more changes coming to the system over the next few months, Wright said.

“Summersville Hospital, which we are managing right now, becomes a full member of WVU Medicine on July 1. Jackson General in Ripley will join the system later this year,” Wright said.

Back in May, WVU Medicine announced an agreement with Wheeling-based managed care organization The Health Plan to come together to form “a fully integrated healthcare delivery and financing system for the people of West Virginia.” Wright said with that agreement and Thursday’s announcement, the system’s focus is turning toward the northern panhandle.

“We’ll really focus up on that Wheeling area and those relationships for a while and probably take a little breather. I think that’s enough for now,” Wright said.