WVU Dumps Firm Managing Wheeling Hospital

WHEELING — National political experts are looking at West Virginia and again seeing “red” this presidential election year.

But state Democratic leaders believe if presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama brings himself to the Mountain State, voters will come his way.

A recent Rasmussen poll showed Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leading U.S. Sen. Obama, D-Ill, by a vote margin of 43 percent to 37 percent, with 18 percent listed as “undecided.”

Pundits — largely from the larger metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York — also are looking at the results of West Virginia’s May 13 Democratic primary election, where Obama lost to U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., 26 percent to 67 percent. As such, many national experts already consider West Virginia a Republican state in November.

“Sen. Obama needs to come to West Virginia,” said Gov. Joe Manchin.

“The reports of racism against him here are false. West Virginia is no different in that way than any other state. It’s just that people here have a Ph.D in life. They need to see you to get to know you, and they felt comfortable with Hillary because they knew her.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey — also a football fan — said he also doesn’t believe West Virginians are, by and large, racist.

“People here like Pat White don’t they?” Casey said of West Virginia University’s standout African-American quarterback. “It’s because they’ve come to know him, and he’s shown he can do the job.”

Casey said Obama still would have lost West Virginia — but would have made it close — had he toured the state extensively the week prior to the May 13 primary election.

But fresh off a win in North Carolina and a close loss in Indiana, the Obama campaign felt it already had secured the party’s nomination, according to Casey.

He added that Obama’s campaigning against Clinton in West Virginia would have underscored this, and that the fight then needed to go national against McCain.

“From a national perspective, I understood it,” Casey said. “But I didn’t like it on the state level.”

He believes Obama should look at history and former President John F. Kennedy’s campaign in West Virginia. It was thought at that time that the first Catholic president wouldn’t win the state.

“He said, ‘These West Virginians don’t like Catholics, but they haven’t met this Catholic,'” Casey noted. “He came here, and they got to know him. Obama can do the same thing.”

Casey also doesn’t believe West Virginia’s Democrats — who outnumber Republicans 2-1 in West Virginia — will vote for McCain. There are 665,234 Democrats in the state; 347,760 Republicans; and 170,501 not affiliated with either party.

“What these people are doing is speculating,” Casey said of national political pundits. “When they look at West Virginia, they don’t see that Democrats won up and down the ticket in 2006 — or that in 2004 Gov. Manchin won, and that the state is substantially Democrat.

“Somehow, they only see the top of the ticket and think this demonstrates a Republican state.

Current President George W. Bush handily won West Virginia in both 2000 and 2004. But Casey said he doesn’t think Bush’s message from those campaigns would resonate in 2008 with West Virginians.

“He took a divisive approach,” Casey noted. “The ‘God, guns and gays’ message wouldn’t play today.

“These are important issues to West Virginians,” he added. “But Bush came and fooled them in 2000, and he lied to them in 2004. Now they see the divisive way he won, and West Virginians have realized that won’t work in 2008.”

The pundits, themselves, don’t often come to the state, Casey pointed out.

“The best thing about being from West Virginia is surprising people who don’t understand how we operate in this state,” he said.

WVU Dumps Firm Managing Wheeling Hospital

WHEELING – R&V Associates – a Pittsburgh-based firm presently managing Wheeling Hospital – has been dismissed from its consulting job at West Virginia University Hospitals.

But despite termination of the firm’s contract, R&V representatives stressed that work to restructure WVU Hospitals should continue.

The dismissal came just after R&V produced a report detailing severe shortages of surgeons at WVU Hospitals, especially heart surgeons and anesthesiologists. It also indicated the recruiting of physicians is hampered by a shortage of funds at the teaching hospital.

But the nine-page report – which cost $320,000 – didn’t tell WVU Hospitals officials anything they didn’t already know, according to Fred R. Butcher, interim president for health sciences at WVU Hospitals. He expressed his thoughts in a letter sent to Ronald L. Violi and Vincent C. Deluzio of R&V Associates.

Violi presently serves as chief executive officer at Wheeling Hospital.

R&V researchers spoke with 14 faculty members at the WVU School of Medicine, the report states. But it also acknowledged no interviews had been conducted with anyone at WVU Hospitals; WVUnited Health System; University Health Associates; or the schools of nursing, dentistry or pharmacy.

“I am somewhat concerned to see a report such as this, including a great many conclusions with regard to multiple operations, based on interviews with only 14 faculty members,” Butcher wrote. “We appreciate the work that R&V Associates has done, outside the scope of the original engagement, to assist us with acute recruiting issues that were brought to your attention through the discussions you held with the initial group of faculty interviewees. However, these issues are not new to us.”

Calls seeking comment from R&V made to Violi at Wheeling Hospital were referred to Mike Plante, a Charleston publicist who represents R&V.

“It was an interim report,” he said. “It was just one stop along the way. It was not the final document.”

He provided a prepared statement that explained R&V Associates was retained by WVU in February to assess the WVU Health Sciences program and its various entities.

“Under the terms of our contract we are limited in our ability to respond by a confidentiality agreement,” Plante’s statement said. “Such agreements are normal and customary with regard to this kind of project. …

“While we regret that we won’t have the opportunity to continue the important work of analyzing, improving, reorganizing and restructuring these programs – it is vital and imperative that such work continue. We appreciate Dr. Butcher’s recognition of our contributions to this effort and are proud of our work.”

Butcher wrote in his letter to R&V that the directive to terminate the contract came from current WVU President Mike Garrison, who announced last week he would be resigning as president. Garrison’s resignation comes amid the controversy surrounding the awarding of a master’s degree in business administration to Mylan Pharmaceuticals executive Heather Bresch, the daughter of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.

Butcher has said in the past that some medical staff members were convinced R&V was brought in by Manchin to find a way to generate savings at the teaching hospital and eliminate a soft drink tax that generates $15 million of its $70 million annual funding.

Butcher did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.

A representative of Garrison’s office said Monday that Garrison was out of town and could not be reached for comment.