Columns/Opinion, Community Advisory Board

Put differences aside for the health of area

By Richard Vaglienti

One of the great strengths of our area is the presence of two hospital systems: One very small and one very, very large. For many years they have been competitors even though their missions and capabilities were always divergent.
The small system provides high quality care for primary and some secondary types of medical problems and the other larger one provides soup to nuts care from basic services to the most high-tech, modern care available.
Now comes an opportunity through the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) System to merge these two systems into one for the good of the community.
Many years ago the small hospital with the blessing of the Monongalia County Commission took over the county ambulance service. That agreement made the new system the first responder for the county and required a presence in the western end of the county.
Over time it became expensive to maintain that western presence, so it was eliminated. Those citizens however still need emergency services and although it looks close on a map, the roads place it 30 to 45 minutes away (on a good day).
Additionally, the Cheat Lake area is now one of the area’s largest bedroom communities. Even by interstate, response times would be 10 minutes or more. Businesses at University Town Centre and Suncrest Town Center likely have thousands of visitors daily with heavy traffic and the possibility of motor vehicle accidents and/or medical emergencies.
Several years ago the Star City VFD started an ambulance service in response to a belief that the community was underserved for EMS services and to help create a revenue stream to defray the serious costs it takes to run a volunteer fire department. Bingo and gun bashes just won’t do it anymore for bigger departments.
Shortly before this service started, a gentleman had a medical emergency and Star City VFD offered to respond as the location was near the fire station. The offer was declined and the outcome was bad.
After this catastrophe the County Commission was contacted with a suggestion to initiate GPS-based dispatching through 911. They also declined. I know because I wrote the letter.
Fast forward to today, WVU Health System placed ambulances and staff at under-served areas of the county or areas where rapid response is difficult. This will undoubtedly save lives. Trauma and medical emergencies rely on fast response for best outcomes. Unfortunately, we are singing the same song.
“Those who do not learn history are bound to repeat it,” said a really famous guy. Well get ready, because the same thing is going to happen, but hopefully no one will be injured this time. Put money aside!
These hospitals are not competitors. Merge into the larger health system and everyone including the small hospital will benefit. Use this EMS opportunity to get it done for the benefit of all. Don’t decline the opportunity this time.

Richard Vaglienti is a member of The Dominion Post’s Community Advisory Board.