WHEELING, W.Va. — Forums continued Thursday in both Wheeling and Martins Ferry, Ohio where two hospitals, Ohio Valley Medical Center and East Ohio Regional Hospital, are slated for closure by October if a potential buyer is not found.

Alecto Healthcare Services, the owner of the two sites since June 2017, did not provide an immediate specific timeline for the shutdowns that will affect more than 1,100 employees.

However, there were indications the closures could take between 60 and 90 days.

“I’m not willing to accept the inevitability of this,” said Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott a day after the announcement.

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Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott

“I think a lot of options are still on the table.”

What is now Ohio Valley Medical Center with 200 beds first opened at its current location as Ohio Valley General Hospital in January 1914.

More than 100 years later, hospital officials said many factors have contributed to the coming closure for both that hospital and EORH including $37 million in losses during the past two years, alleged unfair competition from Wheeling Hospital, growing hospital improvement needs and the lack of a potential buyer or hospital partner despite an “exhaustive” search.

“It’s tempting to look at this in a vacuum as though it’s just happening right now, but OVMC’s problems go back decades. They ran into some issues years ago, they incurred a lot of debt,” Mayor Elliott said.

He called the current financial situation at the hospital “unsustainable.”

Gov. Jim Justice told the Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper Thursday everything possible must to done to keep the hospital open. Justice said he was concerned about losing the psychiatric care the hospital provides.

“There’s many different aspects of this that we’ve really got to be worried about. This is the only psychiatric unit in the Northern Panhandle, and that’s a real issue, a big-time issue with adults and adolescents and everything else with the issues we have today. We sure as a dickens don’t want to wake up to the next tragedy. That’s a big-time problem,” Justice told the Intelligencer.

Justice added that he’s had state DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch reach out to top hospital officials.

First District Congressman David McKinley (R-W.Va.) is also involved.

Congressman David McKinley (R-W.Va.)

“For more than a century the Ohio Valley Medical Center has been part of the fabric of our community, so the announcement that OVMC/EORH is planning to close hurts. My initial concern is for the 1,200 employees and their families. Everybody in the Valley should focus on extending a helping hand to those who are impacted, from the nurses to housekeeping,” McKinley said.

“Since hearing the news last (Wednesday) night, we have met with the hospital administrator at OVMC and spoken with Governor Justice and urged him to get the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources involved. In the coming weeks we will work to ensure as soft a transition as possible, not only for the employees, but also the tens of thousands of residents who rely on the hospital for care.”

Employees were notified of the closure decision during meetings on Wednesday evening.

On Thursday, additional informational meetings were being held at both OVMC and EORH.

Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld (D-Ohio, 01)

“Without a doubt, it’s a big blow to the community,” said state Senator Bill Ihlenfeld (D-Ohio, 01) of Ohio Valley Medical Center.

Tim McCormick, president of the Ohio County Commission, echoed that during an appearance on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline” with Mayor Elliott.

“My biggest concern is the people who work there who have lost their jobs and, hopefully, they will be able to find new employment and my other concern is the health care for the people of the valley,” McCormick said.

Nearby hospitals include Wheeling Hospital, which recently entered into a management services agreement with WVU Medicine, WVU Medicine’s Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale and Trinity Health System in Steubenville, Ohio.

“We’re going to keep working with them as best we can to find options there,” Elliott said of possible ways to avert OVMC’s closure.

“There’s a lot of building there that’s not currently being used and that was a big drain on the hospital operations, all that vacant space they have that they were still paying all the overhead costs for, so we’re looking at ways to kind of take some of that load off.”

Elliott was especially concerned about the elimination of the specialized mental health care services available at OVMC.

Ihlenfeld said OVMC’s emergency care was critical in Downtown Wheeling.

“Not that Wheeling Hospital is terribly far away from OV, but we’re going to have a lot of construction going on up this way for the next several years and I’d really like to see some sort of emergency care offered in Downtown Wheeling,” Ihlenfeld said.

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