WV HOSPITALS FACING MAJOR CHALLENGES TO STAY OPEN - Minnie Hamilton In Recovery Mode, "Looking To Become Stronger"

Bob Weaver

The state of healthcare in West Virginia puts the future of small, rural hospitals in the state in doubt, in addition to some larger ones.

Numerous hospitals are closing, taking out bankruptcy and downsizing.

The loss of several thousand healthcare professionals has already happened, and the worst could be ahead.

Currently it appears that 3,000 healthcare workers have or are losing their jobs in the Mountain State.

Hospitals in the state employ 46,000 people statewide and account for 14 of the top 100 employers in the state.

In Calhoun, Minnie Hamilton Healthcare and the Calhoun school system are the largest employers.

Last week the Fairmont hospital announced its closure with 600 losing their jobs, with Gov. Jim Justice and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey ordering a criminal investigation in the matter, apparently ignoring a myriad of reimbursement issues across the USA.

Minnie Hamilton CEO Steve Whited said, "I think that one of the most frustrating things to me is that the state government acts as though why did this happen, a lot of it surrounds reimbursement issues that they have created and or ignored, along with legislative rules that are not focused in on providing healthcare, but more focused on others problema of the day."

Whited said it also surrounds population declines, as well as utilization of services by community, staffing issues with all of us needing more nurses, behavioral health personnel, radiology tech, and the list goes on. WV is less and less of a friendly environment to do business, thus jobs are scarce, internet issues doesn’t help out either.

"Minnie Hamilton is still in recovery mode from all the reimbursement debacle surrounding Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) issues that arose 4 years ago, however we are strong and moving forward," Whited said.

"We face the same challenges as the larger hospitals do, but on an exponential proportions, meaning our reserves are not as deep as the big boys. However, our team has turned our situation around over the past two years, and we are doing well. We must and are looking to the future to become stronger, more engaged with our community members, and build upon our excellent quality and patient care."

Whited said we (MHHS) are unique in the world of healthcare, being the only Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that owns and operates and Critical Access Hospital (CAH), along with a nursing home, dental practice, behavioral health services, primary care practices, and so on.

"We have positioned ourselves over the years to take full advantage of reimbursement opportunities from all aspects, grant funding is extremely important, and we continue to look at ways to provide and keep our community healthy and safe, both from a health and well being prospective as well as an economic prospective. We truly are all in this together, and must not forget that," he concluded.

Joe Letnaunchyn, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association, said there are daunting challenges which lie ahead for WV facilities.

“You can’t just keep buying hospitals with the population staying the same and having the same number of hospitals treating fewer people, that math just doesn’t work,” he said.

During 2019 the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling closed its doors with a loss of over 1000 jobs, and last month Thomas Health Systems was forced put it’s two hospitals in Kanawha County into bankruptcy protection to see if they could ride the tide until better times prevail.

Other smaller hospitals have been forced to seek a lifeline with partnerships with larger hospital systems like WVU Medicine, Mon General, CAMC and other larger umbrella organizations.

Among the myriad of problems for those hospitals is the loss of commercial insurance carriers among patients. Currently 70 to 75 percent of patients in West Virginia are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or PEIA.

Letnaunchyn added the Medicaid expansion was a positive in that it allowed many West Virginians to finally get healthcare coverage they needed and they were able to get healthier with that coverage.

"However, it wasn’t financially helpful to hospitals who are forced to treat patients with the coverage at whatever rate the payer plans to pay."

Letnaunchyn said until now, hospitals in West Virginia had accepted that system because it was the community mission to help those who are sick get well. But the financial strain is starting to become more than some small hospitals are able to bare.

Washington politicians have been on a mission to disassemble Obamacare, a highly complicated initiative that gave the under-insured some relief.

In 2018, President Donald Trump said he will be announcing a 'phenomenal' new healthcare plan within two months and says healthcare will be a primary focus leading up to his 2020 election campaign.

That plan has not been forthcoming.

Trump has repeatedly called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Republicans previously introduced a replacement called the American Health Care Act that ultimately failed.

The AARP says Americans have some of the highest health and prescription drug costs in the world.