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Fairmont: Emergency action may be needed for hospital

West Virginia’s first death from COVID-19 occurred Sunday. An 88-year-old Marion County woman died from the virus, at a hospital in Clarksburg.

Had she become ill just a few weeks ago, the woman might have been treated at Fairmont, in her home county. But there is no hospital there, now. It closed March 19.

In late February, Alecto Healthcare, the California company that owns Fairmont Regional Medical Center, informed the more than 600 people who worked at the hospital it would be closing in 60 days. It took Alecto half that time to shut FRMC down.

West Virginians have become accustomed to being let down by Alecto. The same company shut down Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and East Ohio Regional Hospital just across the river in Martins Ferry last year.

But those closures did not occur as a COVID-19 epidemic was ravaging West Virginia and Ohio.

Gov. Jim Justice has asked the attorney general to investigate Alecto’s handling of the Fairmont closure. He is especially upset about how FRMC employees were treated. Some say they are owed money by the California company.

Even worse is that Alecto shut the hospital down as the caseload of COVID-19 patients in our state continues to increase. At some point, lack of that 207-bed acute care facility could have devastating consequences.

It is true, multiple attempts were made to keep OVMC and EORH open, perhaps under new ownership. All failed.

Again, however, we were not in the midst of a deadly epidemic then. State officials should continue exploring the possibility of emergency action to reopen the Fairmont hospital, if COVID-19 grows worse.

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