Wheeling Hospital Wants Hearing on OVMC Sale

WHEELING – Wheeling Hospital wants the West Virginia Health Care Authority to hold a public hearing on Alecto Healthcare Services’ application for a certificate of need to purchase Ohio Valley Medical Center.

The certificate is a requirement under West Virginia law for the sale, announced Jan. 27, to move forward. Officials with California-based Alecto on Friday characterized Wheeling Hospital’s request for a hearing as an attempt to delay its acquisition of OVMC and its sister hospital, East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry.

Such a delay, Alecto officials said, could put the deal – which the company had hoped to complete by May – in jeopardy. If Wheeling Hospital exhausts all its available appeals, the process could take up to four years, they said.

“The actions of Wheeling Hospital appear to be designed to block the transaction and could lead to the closing of OVMC and East Ohio Regional (Hospital) and the loss of nearly 1,500 jobs,” the company said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

Wheeling Hospital’s request for a hearing was filed with the health care authority Friday morning by attorney Thomas G. Casto of the Charleston-based Lewis, Glasser, Casey & Rollins law firm. The brief document states only that Wheeling Hospital is “a provider of inpatient and outpatient acute care services in the area covered in the above referenced certificate of need application,” and thus “is an affected person to” Alecto’s certificate of need application.

Wheeling Hospital spokesman Gregg Warren called Alecto’s statements “misleading.”

“Wheeling Hospital’s request for a hearing is based on a matter of social responsibility and the right for the public to know what may happen to OVMC, one of our community’s assets,” Warren said. “OVMC has a role in our community and we are sincerely concerned about the fate of its employees. We have requested a hearing so additional information about the proposed purchase can be made public that otherwise would not be.”

There’s been a push by some to eliminate West Virginia’s certificate of need requirement for those seeking to offer or expand health care services in the state. A bill introduced in the Legislature by Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, would do just that, but remains stalled in committee.

Ferns has said his bill would increase West Virginians’ access to health care by encouraging competition, while the bill’s opponents – including Wheeling Hospital officials – say eliminating the certificate of need requirement would give out-of-state providers an unfair advantage.

“Alecto claims that without the (certificate of need requirement), it makes it much easier to acquire OVMC and implies the transaction may be the only way to save the hospital. Alecto is not OVMC’s only suitor,” Warren said. “Another entity has and continues to offer a far more substantial and rewarding purchase agreement to OVMC, one that will benefit the hospital and its employees.

“Alecto’s statement to the news media Friday mentions everything it will do for OVMC’s employees but one thing -­ ensuring they will have a job. This and other related information should and will be known by the public at the hearing,” Warren continued.

On the day the purchase agreement was announced, Alecto officials said they expected no loss of employment as a result of their acquisition of the hospitals.

Information provided by Alecto Friday indicates the company intends to invest more than $36 million in the hospitals and retire approximately $40 million of the facilities’ outstanding debt. Company officials said they’ve committed to assuming employees’ paid time off, their health insurance and 401(k) plans and the hospitals’ frozen pension plan.

“All of these commitments will be in immediate jeopardy if Wheeling Hospital is permitted to delay this transaction. We would hope that Gov. Jim Justice and (the) Legislature step in and protect the hospital, the 1,500 area jobs and a competitive health care market in the Wheeling area,” Alecto’s statement reads.

Ohio Valley Health Services and Education Corp. President and CEO Michael Caruso previously said the hospitals’ sale would be beneficial for employees and the community at large by enhancing their level of care and converting their operations from nonprofit to for-profit status, meaning more tax revenue for local communities.

Alecto made its first foray into West Virginia in September 2014 when it purchased Fairmont General Hospital and renamed the facility Fairmont Regional Medical Center. It owns other health care facilities in California and Texas.

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