Northern panhandle hospitals bracing for closures

MARTINS FERRY, Ohio — Hospitals in the Northern Panhandle are preparing for an influx of patients after the closure of two medical facilities.

East Ohio Regional Hospital closed Friday night while the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling was shuttered on Sept. 4.

Both hospitals are owned by Alecto Healthcare Services of Irvine, Calif., which announced in August that it planned to shut down the facilities in 60 to 90 days because of financial issues. Both closed ahead of the Oct. 7 target date.

Daniel Dunmyer, president and CEO of the two hospitals, last week said he hoped to have the beginnings of a deal struck for the purchase of East Ohio by another company by noon Friday. However, no purchase agreement was reached.

Since East Ohio is no longer seeing emergency patients or admitting new patients, other local facilities will have to pick up the slack.

Earlier this month, WVU Medicine Barnesville Hospital CEO David Phillips said the facility was ready. Barnesville Hospital has the capacity and resources to care for more new patients and that there is “very little wait time.”

The Richard L. Doan Emergency Department was renovated in 2014 and those updates were made with the potential to serve more people, Phillips said. The hospital’s emergency department has the capacity to handle up to twice as many patients as it typically does in a day, he said.

Phillips said he has reminded local first responders that the hospital is a potential destination for their patients, especially that East Ohio is closed.

Wheeling Hospital also has been making preparations to deal with additional patients, spokeswoman Thea Gompers said. To decrease the wait time, the hospital is using as needed its five Fast Track beds for emergency room patients.

“The former location of those beds is now utilized as five ER beds to accommodate the increase of patients experienced daily,” she said. “We now have 34 ER rooms, including the additional five Fast Track beds.”

Fast Track is now open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., she said.

“We are in the process of hiring and training additional staff in order to increase Fast Track operations,” Gompers said.

Wheeling Hospital also has increased the number of nurses, nurse aides and tech staffing on the night shift to help with an increase of emergency room and Fast Track patients after 5 p.m.

For non-emergency care, Gompers said office space is being offered to former East Ohio and Ohio Valley doctors at Wheeling Hospital and its Ohio health centers, such as Harrison Community Hospital in Cadiz. Some doctors also have been offered jobs there.

“We are moving forward with plans to lease space in downtown Wheeling for a new Urgent Care that will provide radiology and laboratory services,” Gompers said “So far, we have had 300 applicants from OVMC/EORH, of which almost 75 percent have been at least interviewed. Right now, 116 of the candidates are in the hiring process, including 90 hired and scheduled for orientation.”

Harrison Community Hospital administrator, said his hospital is ready for a possible influx of more patients and remains vigilant, Administrator Tony Martinelli said.

“Staffing is at a good level, and we’re more than able to take additional patients. If there’s a surge in demand, we’re prepared to ramp up nursing levels. But with our Emergency Department team, we’re confident we can handle an increase,” Martinelli said.

The emergency room team at Trinity Health System of Steubenville has been meeting with local emergency responders, Director of Emergency Services Doug Wagstaff said.

“Our emergency services team have been meeting with EMS and Belmont County 911 to work on streamlining our intake process for ambulances. This should help the turn-around time for the squads to allow them to get back the communities they service faster. We have also adjusted our staffing with more physicians, nurses, techs and aides to accommodate a potential influx of patients,” Wagstaff said. “We feel confident that we are prepared to absorb any additional patients that we may get.” Wagstaff said.