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Growth, not finances, prompts mergers, say hospital officials

September 03, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

EASTERN PANHANDLE, W.VA. - A three-way merger between City Hospital, Jefferson Memorial Hospital and West Virginia University Hospitals was prompted by the area's growth, not by the financial status of either of the two local hospitals, officials said Thursday.

The merger, announced Wednesday, is expected to provide local patients with more doctors, more services and better treatment options.

Both City Hospital, in Martinsburg, and Jefferson Memorial Hospital, in Ranson, W.Va., have had financial problems. John Sherwood, CEO of Jefferson Memorial Hospital, said that obtaining reimbursement was sometimes difficult and that a new building needed to serve the population would have cost between $50 million and $75 million.

The financial status at City Hospital was shaky through October 2002, said CEO Jon Applebaum.

While operating on sound financial ground did not drive the merger, WVU can only help, both CEOs said.

WVU can negotiate a better interest rate to help pay for needs at the hospitals. City Hospital, for example, needs to renovate its critical care unit and build a new emergency department, Applebaum said.

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One major goal of the merger was to increase clinical programs in the Eastern Panhandle, said West Virginia University Hospitals CEO Bruce McClymonds.

A lot of people in the Panhandle go to out-of-state hospitals for treatment. Statistics show 30 percent seek treatment at facilities in the Winchester, Va., area and about 5 percent head to Washington County, Applebaum said.

The merger might make them stay closer to home.

"The best health care is local," McClymonds said.

Faculty members and students with WVU are expected to increase the area's number of physicians, pharmacists, nurses and specialists, McClymonds said.

All faculty members will be involved clinically and many will be local doctors interested in teaching, officials said.

Because doctors and others at the local hospitals will be affiliated with a university, attracting and retaining employees could be easier, Sherwood said.

Specialty needs that are not being met could be, thanks to the merger, officials said.

As an example, McClymonds said a hospital in Wheeling, W.Va., lost all of its neurosurgeons. Hospital officials contacted WVU, which helped recruit a full-time neurosurgeon, who is a member of the university's faculty but lives in Wheeling, McClymonds said.

Specialties in this area that need to be bolstered are neurosurgery in Martinsburg and neurology in Ranson, the CEOs said.

Some questions remain unanswered, including what each hospital will be named. The new corporation created by the merger will be named WVU Hospitals-East, but both local hospitals also will need to be identified separately.

McClymonds said it's possible the current names will remain in place, but with an emphasis somehow on the WVU connection.

Each local hospital will continue operating separately until Jan. 1, 2005, or until the state Health Care Authority approves a Certificate of Need, whichever is later. A 16-person board of directors will serve as the governing body for both local hospitals and WVU Hospitals-East, officials said.

Sudden changes aren't expected. A consulting firm has been hired to develop a strategic plan to clarify details.

"This is going to be an evolutionary process," McClymonds said. "This is not a big-bang theory."

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