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Wheeling Hospital Seeks Use of OVMC Morgue Equipment

WHEELING — Officials at Wheeling Hospital have reached out to Wheeling city officials to request use of equipment from the morgue at the former Ohio Valley Medical Center campus, which is now owned by the city.

The action is being taken as part of Wheeling Hospital’s contingency plan to prepare for increased capacity as cases related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to surge locally, across the state and around the country.

“As part of our requirement by the state to develop a comprehensive COVID surge capacity plan at Wheeling Hospital, we are continually looking at what resources are available to us in the market to help facilitate any capacity issues that might arise,” Wheeling Hospital CEO Douglass Harrison said in a statement on Wednesday.

Wheeling Hospital did not elaborate on the matter and did not indicate that its morgue facilities were reaching capacity in light of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases or number of related local deaths.

Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron said the request from Wheeling Hospital to use the morgue equipment came through conversations with the county’s emergency management team.

“The Ohio County Emergency Management Association earlier this week received a request from Wheeling Hospital to utilize the morgue-related equipment at OVMC,” Herron said Wednesday. “We’ve given them permission to use two stand-alone units that are able to be disassembled and relocated.”

Herron indicated that the units designed for storage of bodies of the deceased will be taken off-site from the OVMC campus and used elsewhere by Wheeling Hospital. The city is providing equipment to the hospital at no cost, and the borrowed equipment is expected to be returned once there is no need for the hospital to have access to it.

There isn’t a specific date scheduled for Wheeling Hospital to get the equipment, Herron said, but they will “evaluate the logistics of the project early next week.”

OVMC served the community for several decades in the heart of the city before closing its doors for good in the fall of last year. Earlier this year as the pandemic was unfolding, officials in the city of Wheeling initially eyed the former OVMC campus as a potential backup site for emergency medical care in case a surge in coronavirus cases would overwhelm the local hospitals and cause them to exceed their capacities to handle patients.

Though state and federal officials concluded then using the facility as an emergency backup wouldn’t be necessary, city leaders eventually still chose to move forward with acquisition of the OVMC property. The intention was to help steer the future of the buildings into private sector uses that best benefit the city. The city will also keep one building, which is being renovated to be used as a new headquarters for the Wheeling Police Department.

Officials in the city continue efforts to market the buildings on the OVMC campus to the private sector. Portions of the site are currently being used for COVID-19 testing, and one facility is temporarily being made available to Youth Service System for its Winter Freeze Shelter for the homeless.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said he supported the accommodation of morgue facilities from OVMC for use by Wheeling Hospital, indicating the city will continue supporting the hospital and the community in any way it can as everyone continues to navigate through this ongoing crisis.

“My understanding is that doing so would not in any way interfere with our ongoing efforts to return the OVMC properties to the private sector,” Elliott said. “But in the short term, as our local COVID-19 cases continue to grow, we must be willing to channel whatever community resources we have towards constructive solutions.

“As I have maintained from the onset of this global pandemic, having a recently closed hospital facility sitting empty in our city center gives us useful and potentially critical options to employ.”

Wheeling Vice Mayor Chad Thalman noted that while the city remains focused on marketing the properties of the former OVMC campus to future owners, it is important for the city to help the community in any way possible through the use of equipment or the facilities themselves when it is needed.

“We have been working for over a year and will continue to work on putting those buildings back into productive use,” Thalman said. “We are happy to be able to assist Wheeling Hospital in any way possible that benefits the local community.”

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