PARKERSBURG - It's time to let go of the emotional attachment to having two hospitals in Parkersburg, the chief administrator at Camden Clark Medical Center said.
At issue is cost efficiency and the deteriorating condition of the St. Joseph's Campus physical plant, said Mike King, president and CEO of the medical center.
CCMS officials announced this week the intention to close the St. Joseph's Campus and consolidate all services at the Memorial Campus. The consolidation will take from 18 months to four years, King said.
Some residents have accepted it. Others are upset.
"The emotional attachment to St. Joseph's rich tradition and history is both understandable and natural," said Tim Brunicardi, interim marketing director for the medical center. "While it's important and necessary to celebrate that tradition and history, there does come a time when it is equally important to move forward. That is the nature of change."
Camden Clark represents the best of both institutions, he said.
"In that sense, consolidation is not an end of anything," Brunicardi said. "It is, rather, a beginning where we all work together to provide outstanding and compassionate health care for our community."
St. Joseph's was established more than 100 years ago by the Sisters of St. Joseph and was the second Catholic hospital in West Virginia. The West Virginia United Health System purchased St. Joseph's from Signature Hospital Corp. for $87 million in a deal completed in March 2011 and merged it with Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital to form CCMC.
In a memo to hospital employees this week, King said the reason for the consolidation and closure was the substantial decline in patient volumes, the physical condition of the St. Joseph's Campus and the financial challenges, especially in the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care reform.
"On behalf of our community, the board believes that the sizable investment in the physical plant at the St. Joseph's Campus to bring it to modern standards and the annual savings that can be realized by eliminating duplication of services is a matter of good stewardship of the resources given to us by our community," King wrote. "It is indeed the best option for our community for the long-term viability and vitality of our hospital."
Joe Letnaunchyn, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association, said the situation with the medical center was part of the changing ways health care is provided. While it is not a trend, hospital mergers and closures are decisions based on how to best serve the community, he said.
What is the trend is hospital admissions are dropping and length of stays are shorter as health care shifts from in-patient to out-patient services because of how insurers will pay, Letnaunchyn said. Many factors in the health care reform are guiding how facilities will provide services, he said.
For example, there is a move toward more private rooms to control infection and utilize new technologies besides more privacy for patients, he said.
"They want to create a better experience for the patient," he said. "They also want to provide state-of-the-art treatments."
Many facilities have aging physical plants that can no longer keep up with the increasing demands of a facility, Letnaunchyn said.
Hospital administrators have to evaluate how to use their available resources to improve services in a cost-effective manner, Letnaunchyn said. Sometimes closing facilities and consolidating services is the answer, he said.
"These are not decisions that were made overnight, they have taken several years to make," Letnaunchyn said. "It is about how they can provide good patient care."
In the Camden Clark situation, much remains to be done and much remains unknown, but a goal should be the most efficient method to deliver services, said Fred Earley, president and chief executive officer of Highmark West Virginia, a major provider of medical insurance. Health care facilities are facing the same questions as the insurance companies with the health care reforms on the horizon, he said.
"We share those same objectives with Camden Clark," Earley said.
Other influences impact Camden Clark. Marietta Memorial Hospital has been developing a presence in Belpre and other smaller health care providers are taking business away that once went to the hospital.
"The Memorial Health System certainly understands the need to be good stewards of resources and finances in today's health care environment," said Jennifer Offenberger, marketing director for Marietta Memorial. "Knowing that convenient access to quality care will continue to be essential we remain committed to bringing care to local neighborhoods like Marietta Memorial's Belpre Medical Campus. Both health systems share the goal of working in the best interest of our community."
The Camden Clark board of directors has commissioned a Facility Master Plan Steering Committee. The goal will be by the end of the year to create a plan that will be used as a roadmap for the future of the medical center.
The committee is comprised of King, Martin Best, Allen Butcher, Dr. Ignacio Cardenas, Dr. Abdi Ghodsi, Dr. David Gnegy, Greg Gore, Dr. Stephan Hanna, Tom Heller, Dr. Anthony Kitchen, Dave McClure, Dr. Jeff McElroy, Dr. Michael Roberts, Dr. Gail Russell, Sherry Simmons, Deb Thomas and Dr. Shari Vance.