WEIRTON - Weirton City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution requesting the Hancock County Board of Education clear up some of the confusion that has resulted from plans to include a health clinic inside the future Weirton Elementary School slated to open in 2014.
The resolution specifically requests information, in writing, on who will be served by the clinic, what services it will provide and what hours it will operate; on the involvement of Weirton Medical Center in the plans; how the health center will be paid for; and assurances that all city permitting processes will be followed. It also expresses support for the inclusion of Weirton Medical Center as the community's "lead health care provider" in the center's operations.
The school board in July approved a lease agreement with non-profit Change Inc., which would be responsible for the clinic's day-to-day operation. The clinic would accept insurance plans and provide care on a sliding discount scale for the uninsured.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Councilman Chuck Wright, left, and Mayor George Kondik, listen to discussion of a proposed health clinic at the future Weirton Elementary School Wednesday.
Leaders at Weirton Medical Center say they have been excluded from discussions about the facility, but Change Inc. said the hospital voluntarily withdrew from those discussions when it rescinded an earlier letter supporting the project in June.
Former Weirton Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joseph Endrich wrote that letter in January.
He since has retired, with Charles O'Brien Jr. named interim CEO and consulting firm R&V Associates hired to turn around the hospital's struggling finances.
At Wednesday's meeting R&V Associates Managing Partner Vincent DeLuzio said there was never a formal agreement from Weirton Medical Center to provide services at the clinic. Endrich's letter, he said, was sent without the knowledge of the hospital's board of trustees and that the hospital's new management decided it would be in their best interests to withdraw their support.
DeLuzio said he's heard conflicting reports characterizing the proposed health center as everything from a "glorified school nurse program" to a "full-blown health clinic" that would be open after school hours and also serve the general public.
He also noted Change Inc. provides service to many clients with insurance at its Family Health Center, putting the organization in competition with the hospital for some of those patients.
Ed Bowman, a former state senator and Weirton's mayor from 1987-95, said he is concerned with the potential impact of the facility on private sector jobs, as Weirton Medical Center is one of the area's largest employers. Having Change Inc. operate the facility could have a negative financial impact on the hospital as it attempts to orchestrate a financial turnaround, he said.
Councilman David Dalrymple expressed disappointment that the school board was a no-show at the council meeting.
"All the players ... are in this room except the ones that probably needed to be here the most," he said.
Councilman Fred Marsh said it is not up to the city to decide what type of services the health center will provide, but it is City Council's legal and moral responsibility to ensure that Weirton's laws are followed and that there is transparency in the spending of taxpayer money.
"I do not recall the health clinic being a part of the bond call," he said, referring to the $37 million levy narrowly approved by Hancock County voters in 2010 to supplement $19 million in state School Building Authority funds.
In an email sent to City Manager Valerie Means Wednesday morning, Change Inc. CEO Judy Raveaux attempted to clear up many of the issues of concern to city officials. She said the center would only be open Monday-Friday, during school hours.
"When the school is closed, the Health Based Center will be closed," Raveaux said. "The patients of the center are the children themselves, and/or teachers (and) school personnel."
According to the email, plans for the center originally included a pharmacy, laboratory and X-ray equipment, but those elements were scrapped after Weirton Medical Center withdrew its letter of support and updated plans had been sent to the city, a fact Marsh confirmed during Wednesday's meeting. Those new plans show the pharmacy space as a "storage area with refrigerators," the X-ray room as "additional counseling space," and the lab as a "work area," Raveaux's email states.