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OVMC Stalls Wheeling Hospital’s $50M Expansion

July 9, 2009

WHEELING - An objection filed with the West Virginia Health Care Authority by Ohio Valley Medical Center will delay construction of a proposed $50 million "Tower 5" expansion at Wheeling Hospital.

Wheeling Hospital had been seeking its certificate of need from the authority - the first step toward building the expansion.

But the recent move by the OVMC board of directors mandates that a public hearing be held regarding the certificate of need, likely delaying the start of construction by its competitor, Wheeling Hospital.

At stake are an anticipated 250 construction jobs with a projected payroll of $20 million, according to Wheeling Hospital officials, as well as more space for needed doctors and patient services.

"We have no malicious intent," said OVMC spokeswoman Maggie Espina. "We're not trying to stall the project. We're just wanting to ask questions regarding the plan. ... We have read it and have not determined whether we support or don't support it. But the only way to answer the questions is through a public forum."

Espina said she wasn't privy to the board's specific questions about Wheeling Hospital's application for a certificate of need.

But Ronald Violi, chief executive officer of Wheeling Hospital, said OVMC board members' questions could have been addressed through a formal request for information from Wheeling Hospital.

"We were surprised by the filing, but we shouldn't have been," he said. "It came at the 11th hour. I don't think they know what their questions are. It's just that they have opposed anything this hospital has done."

That includes the opening of Wheeling Hospital's open heart surgery facilities and the instituting of its cardiology program, according to Violi. OVMC also opposed Wheeling Hospital's purchase of the Wheeling Clinic building in downtown Wheeling and its purchase of Belmont Community Hospital in Bellaire, he said.

"This will delay things," Violi said of OVMC's filing. "Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing for how long, but this could delay the project for a year. There has to be a public hearing now, and no one knows when it will be called or when it will be scheduled - or if there will be multiple hearings."

The proposed Tower 5 at Wheeling Hospital is to house an expanded emergency room, as well as pediatrics and obstetrics departments. Larger intensive care and cardiovascular intensive care units would be included, as would more space for additional doctors.

Wheeling Hospital has the financing for the project "locked down," according to Violi. The architectural drawings for the project are complete, as are the site plans. The contractors have been lined up, core samples taken and arrangements made for temporary employee parking during construction. He said the groundbreaking was planned for August.

Violi noted that "objection is often the code word" when someone is trying to thwart a project, and he has concerns that Wheeling Hospital's expansion project could die if the process takes too long. Interest rates could increase over time, perhaps making the project too costly to undertake, he said.

As many as 250 construction workers were expected to be involved with the project, representing 13 different trades, according to Violi. He estimated the payroll would add $20 million to the local economy.

"If there's a delay of more than a year, this project will go in the bucket," Violi said. "We hope that we can resolve this, and that cooler heads will prevail. Maybe they will withdraw this objection. Maybe their board will see the light.

"This is nuts," he continued. "This isn't some rinky-dink project that won't make a difference. This will make a big difference in the community."

Delegate Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, serves as business representative for Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters and is co-chairman of Project BEST - an organization that promotes business development and the use of local labor.

Klempa is also a member of the Ohio Valley Medical Center board of directors.

He acknowledged that employment rates presently are "terrible in the construction industry," adding that West Virginia law prohibits neighboring hospitals from duplicating services. Members of the OVMC board also are responsible for making the best financial decisions possible, Klempa said.

"It's a prudent business move - to say why this is happening," Klempa said. "I hope it all gets worked out."

He noted that it is not unusual for a certificate of need request to be challenged.

"I know the construction industry can use all the help we can get, and we have good relationships with both hospitals," Klempa said. "We don't want to get thrust in the middle of this."

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