(11/17/2001)
By Bob Weaver

The medical malpractice insurance problem is coming to a head in West Virginia, with the last major carrier essentially dropping the state. Charleston Area Medical Center is getting ready to shut down their emergency room at the end of the year, according to Dr. Glenn Crotty, CAMC's Chief Operating Officer.

Crotty said surgery would also be discontinued because General Anesthesia's coverage is scheduled to be dropped by the St. Paul Companies. "Rome is burning as we speak," said Crotty. Surgery cannot be conducted without anesthesiology. Physicians are beginning to mail letters to their patients about stoppage of service.

Minnie Hamilton Health Care Center in Grantsville, like all West Virginia doctors and medical services, will be affected. Barb Lay, CEO of Minnie Hamilton Health Care Center, said hospital services are insured through January 10. "I don't want to alarm people, but our emergency room, long term care and general hospital beds could be closed, unless something is done to obtain insurance in West Virginia."

Minnie Hamilton primary care and clinic services are insured by federal insurance and are not at risk of closure.

"Where are we going to send people who need specialty services, surgery, orthopedics, heart attacks, OB care, and lots of other critical needs?" she asked.

The local health organization pays the medical malpractice insurance for its physicians. "The costs to maintain the coverage is difficult," she said. "We have had only one malpractice case in many years, and it was settled in our favor after the jury deliberated 18 minutes."

Sen. Oshel Craigo said he is not surprised hospitals and physicians are sending notices in preparation for the actual crisis. He said the legislature will have a "drop dead" session on November 30 to try and solve the problem.

The legislature appeared to be playing a blame game during the recent session, which was called to find a solution for the problem. Some legislators chose to blame Gov. Bob Wise, but Wise said the extended session was to come up with solutions.

Hospital official Crotty said he believes West Virginia will still lose many specialists, even if a solution is found. The battle lines are drawn between the insurance carriers, lawyers and the medical profession.

MHHCC's CEO Barb Lay said she is still hopeful the legislature will find a solution. Lay requests citizens contact the governor and members of the legislature requesting action on this "true crisis."


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