Ill feeling after West Virginia, Ohio hospitals announce closures

Employees leave East Ohio Regional Hospital and discuss impending layoffs after a meeting about the hospital closing. East Ohio and Ohio Valley Medical Center announced they will close in 60 to 90 days. (Photo Provided)

WHEELING — The governor of West Virginia on Thursday directed his administration “to dig deep to see what kind of help the state can offer” to prevent the closure of the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling.

The medical center and its affiliate East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry, Ohio, will close in two to three months. About 1,200 jobs are impacted.

“We need to be willing to do everything we can possibly do to help, because 1,200 jobs are on the line,” Jutice said in a press release. “We would go to the ends of the earth to bring a company into West Virginia if they were going to provide 1,200 new jobs for our hardworking people, so we need to be willing to scratch and claw just as hard to protect and keep these crucial jobs at OVMC.”

Ohio Valley president and CEO Daniel C. Dunmyer cited a $37 million loss over two years and the inability to secure a strategic partner. The facilities haven’t been able to compete with the business practices of nearby Wheeling Hospital, pointing to a federal lawsuit that accuses Wheeling Hospital of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.

The hospitals will begin work with federal, state and local agencies to develop a timeline for the closure, Dunmyer said in a release. The process typically takes 60 to 90 days, he said.

“As they begin the closure process, OVMC and EORH will also continue their efforts to identify opportunities, alternatives, and options for both facilities,” Dunmyer said. “OVMC and EORH will also work closely with their employees, physicians, and patients as well as community leaders to ensure an orderly closure process for both facilities.”

At each hospital, employees were informed at meetings held 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Within 10 minutes, they exited both rooms with long faces. Employees confirmed they had just been given a written notice that the hospitals will be closing.

Some sobbed while others were seen embracing. A few talked among themselves and couldn’t contain their anger.

“They did this to themselves,” an employee in Wheeling said.

No Ohio Valley employees would speak on the record.

At East Ohio, employees left the building in droves, most using their cellphones to make sad calls.

“It’s just a sad day,” said a 10-year employee. “This is our family. We know each other’s kids, the goings-on, the good, the bad. … They threw us out like dirty diapers.”

Donna Cika, an East Ohio employee said, said there had been rumors of a facility closing, but the news that it would be both came as a shock.

“I was expecting East Ohio to still stay open, because the closest hospital on this side of the river is Trinity (Health Systems), so I figured we’d at least have a hospital here,” Cika said. “It’s a tear-jerker.”

Trinity Health Systems in Steubenville, Ohio, is one of two nearby hospitals for Belmont County residents, along with Barnesville Hospital.

“We are a community hospital,” East Ohio employee Brenda Nelson said. “It’s more like a family hospital here. … It’s very devastating. I didn’t expect this.”

Nelson said the employees were not permitted to ask questions at the brief meeting, but were invited to informational seminars.

The hospitals may remain open if a buyer is found before the projected Oct. 7 closure.

Employees’ accrued paid time off will be paid at termination, unemployment compensation will be available as normal. However, the hospitals do not have the funds for a severance program and insurance coverage will continue until the end of the month of an employee’s termination.

Alecto Healthcare Services has owned Ohio Valley Medical Center and East Ohio Regional Hospital since June 2017, acquiring the hospitals from Ohio Valley Health Services and Education Corp. At the time of the transaction, Alecto committed to keep both hospitals open despite the significant financial and operational issues associated with the prior management of the facilities.

In March, 70 employees between the two hospitals were laid off, with officials again citing financial matters.

The governor said he is working with Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., to find a solution.

“I have also put Secretary Bill Crouch with our Department of Health and Human Resources in touch with hospital leadership to see if there’s anything he can do to help,” Justice said.

McKinley told The Wheeling Intelligencer he was aware of the financial problems, but the announcement of the closure caught him off guard. His wife was a nurse at Ohio Valley.

His concern is can Wheeling Hospital handle the increase load, such as more patient visits to the emergency room.

“If you lose those two hospitals, what pressure is that going to be on Wheeling Hospital?” he said.

Wheeling Hospital CEO Doug Harrison said the hospital is ready.

“Rest assured that Wheeling Hospital stands ready to continue to serve the community through a faith-based, mission driven approach, as it has done for nearly 170 years,” he said. “We encourage all OVMC/EORH staff and physicians affected by this closure to reach out to us and visit our website at www.wheelinghospital.org for a list of job openings. We are more than willing to assist you in your dedication to serve those in need. Together, with the support of the community, we will continue to deliver the highest quality health care that this region deserves and expects.”