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Don’t Pluck Out the Wrong Eye

There’s really nothing wrong with the concept of eye-for-an-eye justice — as long as the eye is plucked from the right face. Devastating Wheeling Hospital to punish wrongdoing by a group of individuals makes no sense.

Wheeling Hospital faces two severe financial challenges. One is making up for $30 million in losses during the past two years. Finding ways to deal with that will be difficult.

But within weeks, the nut could become much harder to crack. U.S Justice Department officials reportedly are ready to settle a complex lawsuit against the hospital — for $50 million.

Taking that much out of the hospital, owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, could reduce the quality of care available dramatically. That would punish people living in our region — not the individuals responsible for wrongdoing that attracted the Justice Department’s attention.

It’s complicated. Reportedly, West Virginia University Health System officials are interested in buying Wheeling Hospital, with which they already have a management agreement. Obviously, WVU doesn’t want to proceed while the $50 million threat is hanging over the hospital.

Could a deal be worked out? Could Wheeling Hospital file for bankruptcy protection to get out from under some of the operating losses and $50 million settlement? Could WVU buy the place after all that is worked out?

Perhaps. But bankruptcies can be messy and time-consuming — as in years. Meanwhile, the hospital would deteriorate.

It’s no secret that hard feelings between Wheeling Hospital partisans and friends of the now-defunct Ohio Valley Medical Center go back decades. Some once involved with the latter blame Wheeling Hospital shenanigans for hastening OVMC’s demise.

But for the good of the community, let’s focus the retribution on human villains, not the remaining hospital. Few people would argue with the coming down hard on the people said to be guilty of wrongdoing at Wheeling Hospital.

But burning the hospital as an institution doesn’t hurt the alleged miscreants. It does harm tens of thousands of people who rely on the facility for medical care.

How much better to punish the individuals and come to some sort of agreement that if another entity — almost undoubtedly WVU — takes over ownership of the facility within a reasonable amount of time, fines against the hospital would be waived?

That would get WVU off to a good start at Wheeling Hospital, quite possibly resulting in better, not worse, health care there.

Let’s hope Justice Department officials see it that way ­ and don’t pluck out the wrong eye.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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