When negotiations broke down and Alecto Healthcare moved ahead with mothballing the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling, Gov. Jim Justice took the opportunity to lambaste “this huge out-of-state conglomerate” that “cares very little for West Virginians.”
We’re pretty sure that did not win the governor or the state any bonus points with the Irvine, Calif., company that provides health care system and management services with hospitals in California and Texas.
And we have to wonder if other corporations heard how our state’s chief executive officer was bad-mouthing one of their own.
We understand the governor’s frustration – especially in light of some bad economic numbers – but we think he gave the state a bad look.
Alecto, owner of both the hospital in Wheeling and Ohio Regional Hospital (EORH) in Martins Ferry, Ohio, said early last month that it would be closing both facilities in two to three months.
And then Tuesday, OVMC announced that all services, including acute and emergency medical, would be suspended at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday. In total, more than 1,000 employees were let go. Just as concerning, access to quality health care took a hit in a state that has had problems with providing just that.
OVMC housed Hillcrest, an adult behavioral health center, and the Robert C. Byrd Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Center. Those were the only ones of their kind in the Wheeling area. So not only will medical professionals be on the move, so, too, will patients and families, from a state that has been experiencing outmigration rates that are, in a word, concerning.
Alecto had been in negotiations with West Virginia University Medicine at the time of the sudden closure on Wednesday, but according to OVMC CEO Daniel Dunmyer, WVU Medicine was not interested in taking over part of the hospital’s downtown campus. “They simply were not interested in our facilities that provide acute and emergency medical services,” Dunmyer said.
So, yes, a terrible outcome all the way around for Wheeling, West Virginia and the state of health care in the Mountain State to say nothing about the economy which gave off additional warning signals when state revenue collections missed their estimates for the third consecutive month.
The state collected $16.8 million less in taxes than projected in August, according to data released by the state Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, the same day as the Alecto announcement. Now, two months into the new fiscal year, the state is $49.8 million below budget projections.
That is not good, especially for a governor who has been out and about bragging about how terrific the economy has been performing under his stewardship while, simultaneously, asking the Legislature for a cool $12.5 million in tax breaks to keep the Pleasants Power Station – an uncompetitive coal-fired power plant – up and running.
Also contrary to the governor’s rosy narrative, personal income tax collections in August were more than $5 million under water and severance tax collections were $12 million short of expectations. Those data points, the power plant bailout and the hospital closing do not speak to the story of a robust economy the governor has been selling.
Instead of writing fiction and appointing yet another blue ribbon committee of good ol’ boys – this one to study how to leverage overly hyped and exaggerated production numbers associated with the anticipated growth of the petrochemical industry in Appalachia – the governor needs to consult with the state’s best economic minds. And then he needs to put pen to paper and spell out a nonpartisan plan on how to build a diversified and dynamic economy, not one wholly dependent on an industry whose shelf life is being threatened by an aversion to coal and a preference for renewable and nonpolluting means of energy creation.
The sooner, the better, governor.
— The Register-Herald