Last month, Alecto Healthcare Services announced it was closing the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and the East Ohio Regional Hospital just across the river in Martins Ferry, Ohio. The company said the closures would occur in 60 to 90 days.
Immediately, WVU Medicine, which manages Wheeling Hospital and operates Reynolds Memorial Hospital in nearby Glen Dale, stepped up efforts to fill the anticipated health care void, particularly in psychiatric and substance abuse services, and hire doctors, nurses and staff who were about to be laid off.
WVU Medicine was in negotiation with Alecto and its real estate investment company to lease several OVMC properties to assure continuity of services. The property owners reportedly wanted a five-year lease and WVU only wanted to commit to one year.
Reasonable parties can disagree—and that’s where negotiations come in. However, while WVU Medicine was waiting for a response, Tuesday Alecto abruptly announced it was shutting down OVMC at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, giving employees and patients a little more than 24-hours notice.
In a prepared statement, OVMC tried to shift some of the blame to WVU Medicine. “Although we made every effort to interest WVU Medicine and Wheeling Hospital in taking over part of our downtown campus, they simply were not interested in our facilities that provide acute and emergency medical services,” said OVMC CEO Daniel Dunmyer.
WVU Medicine was clearly interested, even though leasing parts of the old hospital came with a significant number of logistical challenges, such as providing food service and additional medical services that would be needed.
In fairness, let’s take a step back. When Alecto announced the pending shutdown of OVMC and EORH, it cited $37 million in losses over the last two years. Alecto also pointed to the allegations in the Department of Justice lawsuit accusing Wheeling Hospital of paying kickbacks to doctors who funneled patients and services to the hospital—and thus potentially away from OVMC—between 2007 and 2017.
If true, that’s a legitimate point by OVMC. (Wheeling Hospital has since had a management shakeup and WVU Medicine is now partnering with the hospital.) But that doesn’t explain Wednesday’s action by Alecto to close OVMC a month earlier than originally planned.
The shutdown on short notice meant WVU Medicine had to quickly pivot from trying to utilize part of the existing hospital to an orderly transition for the remaining patients. Stunned employees and first responders congregated outside OVMC’s emergency room for a candlelight vigil just before Wednesday’s closing.
The shuttering of a long-standing community hospital is a tough blow, especially in the case of OVMC, which has provided health care to the greater Wheeling area for generations. OVMC’s problems are not unlike many hospitals that struggle with rising costs and a high concentration of Medicare and Medicaid patients.
However, Wednesday’s abrupt closure has a “cut-and-run” feel to it. WVU Medicine and other health care providers in the region are stepping up to ensure there’s no loss of service. That’s been a 24/7 effort and OVMC’s unexpected action this week made that job even harder.