WHEELING, W.Va. — Ohio Valley Medical Center employees knew the day was coming when they would have to say their final goodbyes to coworkers and watch the lights go out on the facility with over 100 years of healthcare service to the Wheeling area.
They just weren’t expecting it to be September 4.
Alecto Healthcare, the owner of OVMC in Wheeling and partner Ohio Regional Hospital (EORH) in Martins Ferry, Ohio, announced on August 7 it would be shutting down both facilities in 60 to 90 days, even filing a WARN notice with October 7 as the project closing date.
OVMC abruptly announced on Tuesday that all services, including acute and emergency medical, would be suspended at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday.
Former and current employees, emergency service workers, community members, and more gathered outside of the downtown Wheeling facility Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil before the doors were closed.
“It was a really good opportunity to get together and say our last goodbyes,” Morgan Dowler, a former ICU Nurse at OVMC told MetroNews. “A lot of us did not get that opportunity with the expedited closure date. A lot of us worked our last shifts there not knowing it would be our last shift.
“It was an emotional time but it was a positive environment. Everybody was there supporting each other and I think everybody needed that moment last night (Thursday).”
Dowler’s final day at the hospital was on Monday after nearly three years of working there. She said the hospital had a family atmosphere from CEO Daniel Dunmyer to the employees, which showed at the vigil.
Emergency service vehicles from all over the Upper Ohio Valley were there parked outside during the vigil with their lights on including Clearview, McMechen, Wheeling, and Moundsville.
“I can honestly say it was the best job I have ever had,” Dowler said. “It’s devastating thinking about starting over somewhere new, not starting with my people anymore. The people are really what made that place what it was.”
Dowler said herself and most of the over 1,000 other employees losing jobs were stunned by the news of the abrupt closure.
They were not alone as state and local officials, as well as leadership of WVU Medicine, all reacted surprised by the closure after talks with Alecto of saving services and jobs looked to be going smooth.
Gov. Jim Justice released a statement on Wednesday night, “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.”
On Tuesday, OVMC CEO Daniel Dunmyer said in a statement: “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.”
Dowler said a lot of employees support Dunmyer and that he has been the “fall guy” for Alecto and unfortunately the face of the bad news.
The WARN notice filings indicated 736 workers at OVMC will lose jobs and an additional 343 jobs will be lost in Martins Ferry at EORH. Equally concerning to many in the Upper Ohio Valley were the services being lost, especially the ER and mental health facilities, causing the burden of healthcare to rise.
OVMC is home to the adult behavioral health center Hillcrest and the Robert C. Byrd Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Center, which are the only of its kind in the Wheeling area. Currently, the mental health patients are the only ones left in the building and have to be out by Friday, according to Dowler.
“If we already think that wait times at other facilities are long now, it’s going to increasingly grow,” Dowler said. “Everybody keeps talking about mental health and that is one aspect of healthcare that a lot of areas in the state cannot provide, let alone the Upper Ohio Valley.”
While Dowler has moved to another job along with many others at OVMC and EORH, she said the concerns will remain for the community and patients all over the Upper Ohio Valley.
“I just don’t know how the community will survive without another area hospital.”