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Mental Health Services Critical

The situation regarding Ohio Valley Medical Center is no longer just an emergency. It is a looming crisis.

News that acute care and emergency medical services at OVMC were being suspended Wednesday came as quite a shock. California-based Alecto Healthcare had projected OVMC would close in early October.

Wheeling Hospital and other health care facilities in our area may be able to handle the increased emergency and acute care load resulting from Alecto’s surprise announcement. Behavioral health is a different story.

Concern over inpatient mental health care — available in Wheeling exclusively through OVMC — already was substantial. The possibility those services could be eliminated sooner than early October is alarming.

Contrary to comments by Alecto, officials at the local, state and even federal levels have been working feverishly to find ways to fill the health care gap that will be created when OVMC and its sister facility, East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry, are closed by Alecto. Just a few days ago, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said WVU Medicine is devising a plan to handle inpatient behavioral health services.

But these things take time. Buildings and equipment have to be arranged. Staffing must be put in place. State and federal authorizations need to be obtained.

Some of those hoops must be jumped through for good reasons. Not just anyone can be permitted to open a health care facility or to bill insurance companies and the Medicaid and Medicare programs for services.

But surely there are ways to cut some of the red tape, perhaps through provisional approvals.

State, federal and, if necessary, local government officials should do all they can to accelerate the process of clearing the way for WVU Medicine ­– and other entities, if they choose to become involved — to ensure there is no interruption in inpatient behavioral health services for our area.

If such interruption occurs, it would be a crisis not just for patients and their families, but for our entire extended community. It simply must not be allowed to occur.


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