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Competing hospital demands hearing on WVU expansion plan

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Mon General Hospital is demanding the West Virginia Health Care Authority hold a hearing on whether WVU Hospitals' $248 million expansion plan is necessary, effectively delaying the four-year construction project by at least six months.

Darryl Duncan, president of Mon Health System, said the purpose of the state's certificate-of-need process is to control costs, improve quality and efficiency, encourage collaboration and develop a system that makes health-care accessible to all West Virginians.

"A public hearing should be welcomed when so much is as stake," he said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

"Health-care reform requires a higher level of accountability than we've previously experienced," Duncan said, and the focus must shift "from a reactionary system to one of prevention and maintenance."

Value should also be considered to ensure "the consumer should be receiving the highest quality care at the lowest possible cost," he said.

But Bruce McClymonds, president and chief executive officer of WVU Hospitals, said he's frustrated that the smaller community hospital would object -- and rebuff offers to discuss how the two might collaborate. McClymonds said he reached out to Mon General about the need for more beds last April, but "they refused all those ideas and suggestions."

"It is very frustrating," he said. "This is not a Mon General issue. This is not a local issue. This is a statewide issue."

More than 5,000 patients a year are transferred to WVU Hospitals from other facilities in the region, including more than 200 last year from Mon General, McClymonds said. Many needed specialty services that only WVU Hospitals can deliver.

Marianne Kapinos, general counsel to the Health Care Authority, said Monday was the deadline for objections to WVU Hospitals' certificate-of-need request, and that's when Mon General's letter arrived. She said it will be up to attorneys for the hospitals to work out a hearing schedule.

McClymonds said that hearing, to which WVU Hospitals cannot legally object, will delay the project by at least six months, "and it may be more like eight or nine months."

Mon General would also be entitled to appeal should it dislike the first ruling.

Several years ago, objections by Fairmont General Hospital delayed the eventual construction of United Hospital Center in Clarksburg by three years.

"Every month of delay increases the likelihood of patients having to leave the state for care," McClymonds said. "It also makes the project more expensive, which could put some crucial segments of the expansion at risk."

The plan calls for adding 139 patient beds, including 15 in the neonatal intensive care unit of WVU Children's Hospital. While overall deliveries are down in West Virginia, the number of high-risk deliveries is rising. They now account for about 70 percent of all WVU Hospitals births.

Obstetrics is one area where the two hospitals compete, and Mon General has a pending certificate-of-need request for a proposed $6 million expansion of its unit. McClymonds said WVU is not challenging it.

The WVU Hospitals plan also calls for expansion of the emergency department and the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center, new space for the morgue and renovations of clinical lab space.

McClymonds contends the need is clear: Lack of bed space forced WVU Hospitals to close and delay access to stable patients for the equivalent of 80 days last year.

West Virginia has high rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer and other conditions, and the need for care is only growing as the population ages, McClymonds said. Last year, WVU Hospitals treated nearly 30,000 patients.

"The new tower is absolutely necessary to meet the ever-increasing demand for our services," he said.

The expansion would be the largest construction project since Ruby Memorial Hospital was built in the 1980s.

It would also be a major source of economic development for north-central West Virginia, creating an estimated 750 jobs across WVU Healthcare, which includes WVU Hospitals and University Health Associates.

"We see nothing but good coming from this project -- more beds to treat more patients, more specialty physicians and health-care professionals, more jobs," McClymonds said.


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