OSU Affiliation Is ‘Tip of the Iceberg’

WHEELING – Ohio Valley Health Services & Education Corp.’s partnership with Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center is the tip of the iceberg for future growth of the region’s medical community and for continued expansion of treatment options for local residents, hospital officials said.

Since the agreement became public June 12, OVHS&E Chief Financial Officer Lisa Simon said she has been answering staff members’ questions about the future and just what the agreement means for workers at Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry.

It is an exciting time for Simon, especially since work on the affiliation – expected to bring subspecialty doctors and services from Ohio State University’s hospital system, the Wexner Medical Center, to Wheeling – began in 2013. What Ohio Valley Health Services has done by partnering with Ohio State follows a trend in health care being played out across the country, she said.

“I believe what health care is going through now is what banking and airlines went through,” she said. “… Due to reform and where the industry is pushing itself, more parties are joining together.”

The affiliation means Ohio Valley will become not only better, but more efficient, something the corporation has been working on since its financial turnaround nearly four years ago, she said.

“The affiliation with OSU’s Wexner Medical Center will allow us to offer additional services that are not currently available. Once fully rolled out, this could save our system $5 million a year on lower drug and supply costs, and other economies of scale,” she said. “We’re not always good at educating people of where we are fiscally. We’ve made profits the last three years, and five months in a row in 2014.”

Simon believes letting people know the hospital system’s finances have improved is important because they need to feel confident about where they are receiving care.

“That should make this community feel good about our services, and our vendors feel good,” she said.

In terms of care, OVMC already offers cancer treatments, such as for breast cancer, but the partnership is expected to allow patients to receive access to care for many more types of cancer.

Although the physician’s name is not being released at this time, a radiation oncologist from OSU will be the first doctor to come on board, likely in August, Simon said. He or she will see patients in Wheeling two to three days a week. By not having to drive to another faraway city, such as Columbus, patients will save money by getting treatment closer to home. And patients may also benefit from OSU’s clinical trials.

Dr. Steven Gabbe, senior vice president of health sciences and chief executive officer of Wexner Medical Center, said access to OSU’s clinical trials will be done on-site at OVMC.

“They will do it right at Ohio Valley. They will have physicians and nurse leadership at Ohio Valley who will set up for trials right at Ohio Valley,” he said.

Simon said as new agreements for care are reached, the corporation will make public announcements.

Gabbe said he does not remember which party contacted the other first about exploring an affiliation agreement. However, for many years Wexner has communicated with OVMC doctors regarding patient care, with some of those patients then referred to Wexner. The first meeting regarding the new agreement occurred in July 2013.

“It was really a meeting I will never forget. It’s when I first met the leadership at Ohio Valley … I was encouraged by that meeting,” Gabbe said, adding he was impressed the two hospitals’ missions and cultures of improving people’s lives were already aligned.

OSU, he noted, has affiliation agreements with 14 other hospitals besides OVMC and EORH. Each agreement is different and structured to the needs of that particular hospital.

For example, some hospitals need help with their electronic records capabilities, while others need a heart center. At OVMC, cancer care and heart care were the top two interests. But in the future there may also be agreements regarding care for vascular disease, diabetes, neurology, wellness and prevention and more.

The agreement’s benefit for Wexner, he added, is another site for medical students and residents to further their education.

While the hospital corporation’s finances have improved during the past few years, it was not always that way. But Gabbe said OVMC’s past financial history was never a problem for him.

“We were impressed with the steps they had taken to improve their financial situation – it was not a concern for us,” Gabbe said.

He said there was never any consideration by OSU to purchase Ohio Valley Medical Center and East Ohio Regional Hospital because they believed they performed best as independent facilities.