Gov Jim Justice
Gov Jim Justice

WHEELING, WV – Gov. Jim Justice – along with WVU Health System President and CEO, Dr. Albert Wright, and WVU President Gordon Gee – came together at Wheeling Hospital today to announce preliminary plans to reestablish hundreds of jobs and to enhance healthcare services in the Northern Panhandle, following the premature closure of Ohio Valley Medical Center (OVMC) last week.

“The reality is that we had a really bad event, with a bunch of bad actors,” Gov. Justice said during the announcement event. “It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be perfect. But, as soon as we weather the storm, maybe we will have a bright sunrise coming up over the hill and everything be not only as good but even better than before.”

“The minute the crisis occurred regarding OVMC, I talked to the Governor’s Office and members of our team met with the Governor,” President Gee said. “He made it very clear that we need to maintain and even increase healthcare in this part of the state. And he is living up to those obligations.

“That’s the reason we are here today: this is a crisis-turned-opportunity.”

Speaking during the event, Wright laid out some specifics on how WVU Medicine hopes to build upon their existing network of facilities to bridge the gap left behind by OVMC’s closure.

“It’s tragic to see the hospitals that are closing, close. But we are, long-term, going to have the right number of hospital beds in our community,” Wright said. “We have to change the mix of some of the services in the community. That’s really been the focus we’ve had over these last few weeks; is what are the gaps in the community that we have to fill up?”

Wright says the plan focuses on three areas: expanding emergency care, expanding behavioral health, and preserving jobs.

Emergency Care
Wright says that Reynolds Memorial Hospital has recently hired a handful of new physicians and plans to add 9-10 new exam rooms within its emergency department, which will allow the hospital to support an additional 15,000 patient visits per year.

Anticipating a possible closure of OVMC, Wheeling Hospital recently opened five “Fast Track” units for urgent care within its emergency department.

Additionally, many of OVMC’s surgeons are being moved to Wheeling Hospital and Reynolds Memorial Hospital.

Harrison Community Hospital soon plans to open its own new operating room.

Meanwhile, Wheeling Hospital and Reynolds Memorial Hospital are also working to open three new urgent care centers in the area, including locations in downtown Wheeling, Benwood, and Mt. Olivet, to service patients with less-acute medical emergencies that may not require the ER.

Behavioral Health
To make up for the loss of OVMC’s prominent psychiatric care facility, Wright announced that WVU Medicine intends to add 25 inpatient beds at Wheeling Hospital and 25 inpatient beds at Reynolds Memorial Hospital over the long-term.

In the short-term, WVU Medicine will be working alongside Gov. Justice’s administration, including leaders with the Department of Health and Human Resources, to properly outfit existing rooms to the specifications required for psychiatric patients as expeditiously as possible.

WVU Medicine is also building out its psychiatric team by creating new positions; hiring several psychiatrists, nurses, therapists, and tele-psych workers. However, these are not the only medical professionals WVU Medicine is looking to bring on board.

Job Preservation
Also during the event, Wright explained that WVU Medicine has been holding a series of job fairs, already hiring hundreds of medical professionals, with many more in the process of being hired.

Wright says he expects new hires to continue to spike as they work to build out their infrastructure to handle the new wave of patients, going on to say that WVU Medicine hopes to hire as many employees from OVMC as possible, especially physicians, clinicians, and other support staff.

“The last thing in the world I want to see is anybody lose their job and anybody not being able to have good care, especially in an area that is as flourishing and has so much potential as Wheeling,” Gov. Justice said. “You’ve got a lot of people that are being displaced and are uncomfortable and worried and have a lot of anxiety and everything and we want to dismiss that as quickly as we possibly can.

“It is absolutely one difficult situation, but we’re on it and we’re going to do the very best we possibly can,” Gov. Justice said. “I’ve jumped in with both feet and I’m really to the point beyond pushing to the nth degree. I’m going to do anything and everything, within the legalities of what we can do, to try to save these jobs and try to save healthcare for this area.”