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Hospital group asks for legislators' help in Charleston

November 21, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Nestled among West Virginia's mountains and valleys is a population that is sicker, poorer, older and more reliant on public health care than those of most or all other states, said Tony Gregory, director of communications and legislative affairs for the West Virginia Hospital Association.

In West Virginia, 15.7 percent of the population is 65 or older, and the state's median age is older than that of Florida. West Virginia's median income is 49th out of the 50 states, but the state is at the top of the list when it comes to health problems, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, Gregory said.

One in six state residents is covered by Medicaid, and 70 percent of the population relies on the government for some form of health care, he said.

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At the same time, state hospitals and doctors are not receiving adequate compensation from the government for health-care services performed, he said.

Gregory spoke to an audience of about 30 people at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Shepherdstown Thursday night. Legislators who attended were state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, and Delegates Craig Blair, Larry Faircloth, Walter Duke and John Overington, all R-Berkeley.

Last year City Hospital, in Martinsburg, W.Va., lost $7.3 million in uncompensated care, CEO Jon Applebaum said. Statewide, more than $360 million was lost in uncompensated care, Gregory said.

In addition to financial woes, also discussed at the conference was the state's health-care work force problem.

A survey projected that by 2008, the state will be short 2,500 registered nurses, Gregory said.

Part of the problem can be attributed to qualified health-care workers seeking employment in surrounding states. Also, Gregory said, fewer people are choosing health-care jobs because of perceptions that there is more paperwork than caring for patients, that it's "dirty work" and because of unavoidable overtime.

Legislators were asked to keep the health-care industry's problems in mind when they meet for their next session, scheduled to begin Jan. 14.

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