CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mon General Hospital is escalating the fight over the relocation of West Virginia University Urgent Care by taking its parent company to court and angling for a look at its books.
University Health Associates, which operates WVU Urgent Care, issued a statement Monday saying that Mon General has filed a complaint in Monongalia County Circuit Court. It aims to have UHA declared a public body rather than a private medical practice, a ruling that would subject UHA to the Freedom of Information Act.
Darryl Duncan, president and chief executive officer of Monongalia Health System, said he would withdraw the legal action if WVU Urgent Care and its affiliated corporations comply with his hospital's recent information requests.
Duncan denied that Mon General's objective is to stop the relocation of the urgent care. Rather, he said, it wants all health-care providers affiliated with WVU to go through the same process as any other provider when it comes to obtaining certificates of need for projects.
"No other hospital in West Virginia enjoys that opportunity, and it therefore creates an uneven playing field for the smaller community hospital providers," he said. "This is solely about the certificate of need process and their request to be exempted from it."
Mon General has previously requested a list of services provided at the current site; minutes of UHA board meetings since 2008; records of taxes paid to Morgantown; and any agreements between UHA and WVU Hospitals, which are part of WVU Healthcare.
UHA Chief Medical Officer Judie Charlton says a 1989 state Supreme Court decision made clear that UHA is not subject to FOIA. UHA was created as a private physician practice more than 30 years ago, she said, with its own bylaws, members and board of directors.
"No WVU Healthcare entity has ever challenged a Mon General certificate of need or sued Mon General," Charlton said. "How a health-care organization that claims to serve the community can continue to obstruct and impede crucial improvements for patient care is perplexing."
In August, Mon General asked the state Health Care Authority to reconsider an earlier decision to waive a certificate of need requirement for the relocation of WVU Urgent Care.
The state requires certificates of need for projects exceeding $2.9 million unless the entity is exempt. The cost of moving WVU Urgent Care about 2 miles to a shopping center is estimated at $2 million to $4 million.
The authority had ruled that UHA qualifies as a private practice and is therefore exempt from the requirement. Mon General disputes that, arguing UHA is the clinical practice arm for WVU physicians and controlled directly by WVU Hospitals.
Charlton calls the FOIA complaint "a desperate attempt" to stop the relocation and to impede a competitor.
"For decades, both Mon General and all entities of WVU Healthcare have coexisted in a spirit of collaboration," she said. "The current leadership of Mon General has changed the climate of community cooperation."
In July, Mon General dropped its challenge to a certificate of need for what was initially a $248 million expansion of WVU Hospitals. Under that settlement, WVU Hospitals agreed to reduce its project by 25 beds.At the time, Mon General said the hospitals had agreed to explore future cooperative ventures, including ways to provide more efficient patient care and support training for the health-care professions. But Duncan said he made clear to WVU officials at the time that he believes its entities shouldn't seek exemptions from the certificate of need process.