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Marion delegates lead to keep Fairmont Regional open; Justice describes alternate idea

By Suzanne Elliott and David Beard

MORGANTOWN — Marion County’s three state delegates asked Gov. Jim Justice to use his executive powers and keep Fairmont Regional Medical Center open because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was expected to close Thursday night, according to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Justice said he wouldn’t be doing that, but was taking a different approach.

“First and foremost, we thank you for the effort you are putting forth to keep a hospital in Marion County,” House Minority Whip Mike Caputo said in a Thursday letter to the governor. Delegates Linda Longstreth and Michael Angelucci also signed the letter.

WVU Medicine has applied for a certificate of need (CON) with the state to open a portion of the hospital, but it would take 30 days to get the facility up and running as an arm of J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital.

With Justice declaring a state of emergency in West Virginia because of the coronavirus, Caputo said it is imperative that the hospital remain open.

“I’ve met with my other House colleagues, along with the Chamber of Commerce and just as you, we’re all very concerned about the Coronavirus pandemic,” Caputo’s letter said. “We are asking you, through your executive powers, to keep FRMC open during these difficult times.”

“We believe it is CRUCIAL for the health and well-being of [north-central West Virginia],” Caputo wrote. “If this virus spreads as quickly as predicted, we will need ALL facilities available for interventive and preventive care of our citizens.”

Justice spoke about letter Thursday in response to a question from The Dominion Post. He thinks there is a way, he said, to move the CON process to the side and put WVU Medicine in there immediately if WVU Medicine is willing and the need arises.

He’s been taking the approach of using FRMC, and possibly the closed Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling as backup facilities should open hospitals be overwhelmed by virus cases. “We’ve been on it, We’re still on it. We may be able to not have it close for the 30 days.”

Alecto Healthcare, the California-based owner of Fairmont Regional, said it was closing the 207-bed hospital after failing to find a buyer and losing $19 million during the last three years. Alecto bought FRMC — the state’s 30th-largest employer — in 2014 for $15.3 million.

In the last month, both Mon Health and WVU Health systems announced plans for hospitals in Marion County. Mon Health has described its planned facility as a small format hospital. WVU Health, meanwhile, said it will construct a 100-bed hospital next to its Urgent Care facility at the Gateway Connector, a project that could take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also addressed FRMC’s closure during a Thursday press conference and subsequent release. During this ciris, he said, there’s no reason any hospital or clinic should be closing.

He’s obtained commitments from WVU Medicine and Alecto, he said, that Alecto will close it in a condition that it will be ready to be re-opened by WVUM if it’s needed as a backup hospital.

He said in his release, “I have received a commitment from Lex Reddy with FRMC to keep the hospital in pristine condition upon closing so it will remain ready to be reopened if the pandemic requires it. Albert Wright at West Virginia University also committed to me that if need be they will operate FRMC under emergency circumstances so people in Marion County will not go without treatment if this horrible virus continues to spread.”

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