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Ohio Valley lawmakers looking at all options to avoid ‘healthcare crisis’ with OVMC closure

WHEELING, W.Va. — A crisis in various healthcare areas could hit the Upper Ohio Valley if all services are shut down upon the closing of the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling, according to state Senator Bill Ihlenfeld (D-Ohio).

Ihlenfeld and fellow Senator Ryan Weld (R-Brooke) spoke with MetroNews about recent meetings with local leaders on how to ensure care is still being provided to folks in the community, particularly with behavioral health and emergency room care.

In early August, Ohio Valley Medical Center (OVMC) and partner East Ohio Regional Hospital (EORH) in Martins Ferry, Ohio announced they would be closing in 60 to 90 days, leaving nearly 1,200 people without jobs and thousands searching for new care.

Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld

Ihlenfeld said there are some areas to the hospital that can be absorbed by other medical providers in the Wheeling area but certainly not the additional visits to the ER and the two behavioral health centers on the OVMC campus.

“We would be in a world of hurt if those things go away because they are so critical to the area. I am not sure if the facilities in the area have the capacity to make up for the loss,” he told MetroNews.

“30,000 additional visits to the ER have to be absorbed by other hospitals in the area. The waits at some ERs around the area are already very lengthy.”

OVMC is home to the adult behavioral health center Hillcrest and the Robert C. Byrd Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Center. According to the OVMC/EORH website, Hillcrest has around 1,600 patients in its outpatient programs and 30 beds at the state-of-the-art Robert C. Byrd Center.

Weld said Dr. Kim Miller, the Superintendent of Ohio County Schools spoke of her concerns of the Robert C. Byrd Center closing during those meeting with himself, Ihlenfeld, Delegates Erikka Storch (R-Ohio) and Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio), Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman.

Miller said students throughout her school system are a large recipient of those services, according to Weld, which has become his number one priority.

Sen. Ryan Weld

“By now everybody is familiar with the need for wraparound services in the school systems for kids that aren’t achieving well as they should be in students because of behavioral health issues a lot of times caused by problems at home, instability at home due to poverty, opioid crisis, and broken families,” Weld said.

WVU Medicine, which now manages Wheeling Hospital and Reynold Hospital nearby OVMC, has been identified as a potential entity to continue the services of behavioral health. WVU President Gordon Gee met with Gov. Jim Justice this week to discuss options.

Private parties have expressed interest in taking over as well, according to Weld and Ihlenfeld.

Ihlenfeld said every day that goes by without a solution or partner in place to continue services, is a tougher path.

“I am an optimist so I haven’t given up hope but the realist in me tells me that every day without a solution, makes it tougher. People that work there are looking for other opportunities and you can’t blame them,” he said.

“Time is of the essence and we need to do something quickly if we want to salvage that facility. It has the potential to create a real crisis in a lot of different areas if something is not done.”

Alecto Healthcare Services, the owner of the two sites since June 2017, gave the 60 to 90-day timeline on August 7, which would put the earliest both hospitals could close at October 7. Weld said OVMC seemed to indicate in the meetings this week that if there was a concrete plan of a takeover of services, that 60 days is not a hard deadline.

He does realize that the longer that this goes on without a solution, the more they will bleed off employees, thus making it more difficult to recover.

“Ideally we would like to keep all the core services that a hospital delivers open and available but that is proving to be a very difficult task,” Weld said.

“At this point, we are trying to get all the information that we can and the impact that it would have on the community to people who are interested in it.”

Ohio County Sheriff Tom Howard was at the meeting as well expressing concern about his department’s resources impacted by the closure. Adjudicated through the mental hygiene commissioner, deputies would have to transport individuals to mental facilities around the state and back for hearings in the county without Hillcrest as an option.

Ihlenfeld said that would mean two fewer deputies to patrol the county at times.

OVMC opened in January 1914 as Ohio Valley General Hospital and currently holds 200 beds. Alecto indicated during its closure announcement $37 million in losses over the past two years.

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