WHEELING, W.Va. — WVU Medicine CEO Albert Wright was as surprised as anybody to find out Ohio Valley Medical Center (OVMC) in Wheeling was abruptly closing on Wednesday.
Wright spoke with MetroNews and said the company was close to striking a deal with Alecto Healthcare, the parent company of OVMC in Wheeling, and property owner Medical Properties Trust Inc. of Birmingham, Alabama to continue crucial services such as emergency and mental health.
Citing $37 million in losses over the past two years, Alecto announced on August 7 it would close OVMC and partner hospital East Ohio Regional Hospital (EORH) in Martins Ferry, Ohio on October 7.
“Tuesday at 3:30 if you would have asked me the odds of us getting it done, I would have said 90-percent,” Wright said on MetroNews ‘Talkline.’ “A lot changed at 4:00 on Tuesday when they decided to cut off services before that October 7 deadline.”
Wright said WVU Medicine, who already has a presence in the Upper Ohio Valley at Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale and Wheeling Hospital, wanted to continue the mental health facilities on the OVMC campus.
WVU Medicine offered Medical Properties Trust Inc. to take over the property of adult behavioral health center Hillcrest and the Robert C. Byrd Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Center with a one year lease. The Alabama based company wanted a five-year lease out of WVU Medicine but there was not much negotiating, according to Wright.
“Last Thursday we gave them the proposal for the one year,” Wright said. “We were waiting to hear back and we kept pinging them and pinging them. They didn’t get back to us until after the announcement that they were closing on Tuesday.
“At that point, we started talking to employees and psychiatrists. With all patients having to be out by Friday, we changed our focus on leasing the buildings to placing patients.”
Wright said eight patients were left in Hillcrest as of Thursday but four were being discharged that day. Six patients remained in the Byrd Center as of Thursday afternoon but three were being discharged that day with the help of the state Department of Health and Human Resources as well as Gov. Jim Justice’s office.
Reynolds Memorial Hospital will begin to absorb psychiatric patients in a new unit, Wright said. The plan for the facility is to create between 25-to-30 beds in an inpatient psychiatric unit. Wright added it could take up to 90 days to complete with going through the certificate of need process and making the rooms safer for patients.
Wright said there isn’t a choice of trying to lease the psychiatric buildings on the campus of OVMC in downtown Wheeling after the closure of the rest of the hospital.
“You have to have a way to be able to prepare meals for patients, you have to be able to image patients, you have to be able to provide pharmacy services,” he said. “With the abrupt withdrawal of Alecto, we are very nervous that we wouldn’t have a way to do those things overnight to take care of those patients.”
The Glen Dale facility and Wheeling Hospital are also absorbing the emergency room services, which state and local officials worried about losing. Wright said Reynolds Memorial hired all six ER physicians at OVMC. According to him, the facility has seen record numbers this week, going from 30 inpatients a day to around 45.
Wright said more than 100 employees are in the hiring process, adding to the already more than 100 already hired from OVMC and EORH to the WVU Medicine system.
A Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification filings indicated 736 workers at OVMC will lose jobs and an additional 343 jobs will be lost at EORH. That WARN notice was also dated October 7.
Most of those employees gathered for a candlelight vigil outside of the hospital on Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
Gov. Jim Justice expressed his displeasure with the move by Alecto, asking Attorney General Patrick Morrisey “to look into any improprieties that Alecto has done or is doing that has caused West Virginians undue hardship.”
Justice said, “I am disappointed that Alecto chose to end negotiations with WVU Medicine on the same day that they announced the premature closing of their facility.
“It’s easy to see that this huge out-of-state conglomerate cares very little for West Virginians.”
Wright wishes Alecto would have done the closure in a more coordinated fashion to make it a more smooth transition for the care of patients.
While the Wheeling area is experiencing healthcare troubles, Wright said he wants to let the citizens of the Upper Ohio Valley know that WVU Medicine and local officials are in it for the long haul.
“We are there for the long-term duration,” he said. “We are going to build a spectacular healthcare system and product in Wheeling that is connected to the statewide network that we have now.
“We are having some short-term pain in Wheeling right now. Long-term we will rightsize healthcare in that market and improve things. I feel confident about that.”