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Martins Ferry Mayor John Davies Pushing for EORH Agreement

File photo

Confusion continues to surround cooperative agreements between Belmont County Senior Services and area hospitals, but county leaders said more information will soon be forthcoming.

The issue — which was hotly debated in the fall just prior to the general election when a senior service renewal levy was on the ballot — was raised again during the public comment segment of Wednesday’s Martins Ferry City Council meeting. Resident Richard Hord inquired about the possibility of senior services reaching an agreement with East Ohio Regional Hospital to benefit area seniors.

Mayor John Davies responded that he had spoken to former senior services director Dwayne Pielech about the matter before he stepped down late last year. Davies, who is a member of the EORH board, said Pielech seemed willing to work something out with EORH.

Davies also said he understands an agreement between SSOBC and WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital that was announced in the fall is not exclusive, but he added that he’s made no inroads with the Belmont County Board of Commissioners regarding why there isn’t an agreement with EORH as well.

“That will be up to them,” Davies said of the commissioners. “They control what happens to senior service. They have a director that answers to the commissioners. The commissioners make the final say, so that will be their call.”

The issue was dropped at that point but was picked up again when Councilwoman Suzanne Armstrong asked Davies if there would be any benefit to meeting with any of the commissioners. She wondered if it would be a waste of time or if communication up to now had been sufficient.

“We explained our position on it that we thought that our hospital, being in Belmont County, being in the state of Ohio, should have been at least included … ,” Davies said.

He told Armstrong “our funds” are traveling out of Ohio but was told no money is being exchanged as part of the arrangement with Wheeling Hospital. Davies said he disagrees with that.

“The perception is way off,” new senior services Director Lisa Kazmirski said Thursday in response to questions about the exchange during the meeting.

She said there is no signed contract with Wheeling Hospital. Instead, she termed the arrangement between the entities a “business associate agreement.”

“Which is just to allow them to come into the centers to provide services to our folks, but it’s not just with them,” she said. “It’s happening with East Ohio as well.”

When asked if it was up to seniors in the county to go where they choose for health care services, she said it was.

“Absolutely, absolutely. Freedom of choice and no money is exchanged,” she said. “Tax levy dollars are not going to any of this.”

Some of the services Wheeling Hospital agreed to provide include education and screenings, for example, but Kazmirski said they aren’t being offered just yet.

“That’s not in place yet (and) not just them, though. This is not exclusive to that hospital,” she said of Wheeling Hospital.

She stressed that her agency is simply making services available to its consumers. Older residents of Belmont County can seek screenings and other health care services from any provider they choose.

Davies was critical of the commissioners during the council meeting.

“They have not been easy to work with ever since we worked to keep that hospital open,” he said, referring to the commissioners and EORH. “The commissioners have done, to my knowledge, zero and they did not attend one meeting we were in.”

He described the issue as a sore spot between the city and the commissioners. Davies also said the commissioners could nix any deal that senior services might make with a service provider, which Commissioner Josh Meyer acknowledged.

“Technically yes, but why would we?” Meyer said of the board’s ability to negate an agreement the agency made during a phone interview Friday afternoon. “We have worked with East Ohio. We will continue to work with East Ohio, and an announcement is forthcoming in the very near future.”

In a statement released Thursday, Kazmirski said no one “is playing favorites or directing business to any specific entity.”

“A formal announcement is forthcoming — after the referred to ‘agreements’ are actually finalized,” she said.

Officials with EORH and WVU Medicine could not be reached for comment.

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