W.Va. hospitals say Winchester hearing is slowing improvements

May 17, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION


Winchester (Va.) Medical Center officials said it could shape up as a "medical arms race."

West Virginia University Hospitals-East officials counter it's about serving the community.

Officials with West Virginia University Hospitals-East, the organization formed last year that operates City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va., are asking state officials for permission to proceed with $41 million in improvements to the hospitals that they say are needed to help attract more physicians to the area and increase medical services in the Eastern Panhandle.

Citing concerns such as duplication of medical services, officials with Winchester Medical Center have requested a hearing on the project, which West Virginia University Hospitals-East officials say is slowing the process.

The proposed projects in the Panhandle include expanding emergency room services at City Hospital and Jefferson Memorial, construction of new physician offices in Jefferson and Berkeley counties and expanding the number of "telemetry units" at City Hospital.


Telemetry units are hospital beds equipped with devices such as cardiac monitors, said Teresa McCabe, spokeswoman for West Virginia University Hospitals-East.

City Hospital sometimes does not have enough telemetry units, and patients have to be sent to other hospitals in the area, McCabe said.

Officials with West Virginia University Hospitals-East have filed a "certificate of need" application with the West Virginia Health Care Authority to proceed with the projects and they initially said the work could be completed within 36 months of approval.

Those plans changed when the local hospitals were informed that Winchester Medical Center officials requested a public hearing on the project, according to a news release from West Virginia University Hospitals-East.

The request for a public hearing will delay construction for several months or longer, said Roger Eitelman, chief executive officer for West Virginia University Hospitals-East.

"It is certainly disappointing to learn that Winchester Medical Center is going to delay the implementation of these plans by requesting a public hearing on the project," Eitelman said in the release.

An official with Valley Health, the parent company of Winchester Medical Center, said Tuesday that one of his company's concerns about the project is duplication of services, which can drive up health-care costs.

Lawrence K. Van Hoose, vice president of Valley Health, used a magnetic resonance imaging device (MRI) as an example.

If one hospital has an MRI and a second hospital decides to buy one, that's about a $1.5 million expense that perhaps the second hospital could have used to expand services in other areas where services are lacking instead of using the money on a "medical arms race," Van Hoose said.

Patients from the Eastern Panhandle often go to Winchester Medical Center, which is top-rated for its cardiac care and "that's their choice," Van Hoose said.

In states which have a certificate of need process, it is not unusual for public hearings to be held, Van Hoose said.

"I think people are trying to make a bigger deal out of this than it is," Van Hoose said.

A public hearing will be held in August, although McCabe could not give a date.

City Hospital wants to build three physician office buildings in Berkeley County, McCabe said. One would be built in the Marlowe area, and one would be built in southern Berkeley County, possibly on some land the hospital owns along W.Va. 51 in Inwood. The third building would house an office in Martinsburg, possibly on three acres the hospital owns along Dry Run Road, McCabe said.

A big part of the $41 million project would be construction of a new emergency room at City Hospital, McCabe said.

A larger emergency room is needed because the current facility was built for 25,000 patient visits a year. The emergency room is experiencing more than 40,000 patient visits a year, McCabe said.

The emergency room at Jefferson Memorial also needs to be expanded because it is serving more patients than the 20,000 a year it was designed to serve, McCabe said.

Jefferson Memorial Hospital officials have been looking for a 40-acre site to build a new hospital, and the site would be the location for a new physician office building, McCabe said.

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