The union representing 120 displaced workers at the former Fairmont Regional Medical Center said Monday it will file a lawsuit in federal court against the California-based owner of the now shuttered facility.
Fairmont Regional was closed last month after its owner, Alecto Healthcare, said it was closing the 207-bed hospital after failing to find a buyer and losing $19 million during the last three years. It was the only full-service hospital in Marion County.
In a statement sent to The Dominion Post, Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said Alecto’s action was a direct violation of the federal WARN Act.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic the likes of which our country has never witnessed,” said Appelbaum in a statement. “We are opening field hospitals across the country to ensure we have enough beds for potentially hundreds of thousands of patients who will succumb to the COVID-19 virus. It is outrageous that
Alecto would close this facility now, with no warning in the middle of this national crisis. 120 critical care professionals who need to be on the front lines of this epidemic aren’t able to care for their now hospital-less community.”
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 requires employers with more than 100 workers — hourly and salaried — to provide a 60-day notification of closure or mass layoffs. More than 600 people worked at Fairmont Regional.
The 60-day mark for Fairmont Regional would have been April 18.
“Our union will not stand for this, and we are swiftly filing against this company for failure to follow a just path to closure under the WARN Act,” Appelbaum said. “This community will need a hospital, and I am hopeful that with the support of elected officials we can ensure this community keeps its health care facility through this pandemic.”
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sent an email letter to 13 former FRMC employees on Monday addressing their report to him regarding Alecto’s alleged failure to pay them and other employees accrued vacation time.
“I am deeply concerned with Alecto’s apparent disregard of its moral and statutory obligations and am committed to utilizing the resources of the office of the attorney general to pursue any available enforcement avenues,” he wrote.
State code, he said, compels an employer to pay a discharged employee prior earned wages on or before the next regular payday on which the wages would otherwise be due and payable. Employers must also pay any accrued fringe benefits according to the terms of the relevant agreements with its employees. violations may entitle employees to two times the unpaid amount in addition to their earned wages and benefits.
Morrisey said he’s been working closely with the Division of Labor to investigate any violations of the Wage Payment and Collection Act related to the abrupt closure of FRMC.
“To facilitate further investigations, I encourage each of you to submit any complaints regarding unpaid wages or benefits through the Division of Labor’s Request for Assistance process,” he said.
Morrisey said that last Friday he referred this matter to the local officials in Marion County and the city of Fairmont for an investigation and potential pursuit of federal civil penalties concerning federal WARN statute, which requires the employer to notify the employees and the local government. Violators may be required to pay affected employees specified back pay and benefits and pay the relevant local government a civil penalty of not more than $500 for each day of such violation.
There are 345 positive cases of the novel coronavirus in West Virginia Monday afternoon, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. Monongalia County has 53 confirmed cases and one death associated with the virus. Marion County, meanwhile, has 17 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death related to coronavirus.
Alecto announced in mid-February it was closing the hospital. Roughly less than a month later, both Mon Health System and WVU Health System announced plans for full-service hospitals in Fairmont. Mon Health said its planned facility will be a small-format hospital, while WVU Health said it will build a 100-bed, full-service hospital next to its Urgent Care facility at the Gateway Connections.
“Having hospital-based services close to home is more important now than ever,” said David Goldberg, CEO of Mon Health System. “This was taken into account with both WVU Medicine and Mon Health System applying to build facilities in Marion County following the governor’s observation for one of the state’s largest cities to have a hospital.”
Goldberg said Mon Health completed its Certificate of Need from the state to proceed with its plans to construct a new hospital format hospital on land it already owns along Interstate 79, near Fresenius Kidney Care in Pleasant Valley. The project is not expected to exceed $25 million.
“Mon Health is pleased to have the health care authority deem our certificate of need application complete so we expect to have approvals by end of May/early June after their deliberate review to code and regulation, barring no oppositions to either of the applications,” Goldberg said in an email. “Mon Health supports the need for hospital services in the county and look to be approved to provide that care close to home for hospital-based health care needs.”
Beginning today, Mon Health System will provide a drive-through testing site at the offices of Drs. Bonfili and Flowers, 840 Locust Ave., Fairmont. This site will operate from 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. To pre-screen and pre-register, patients must call the Mon Health COVID-19 Patient Outreach Line at 304-285-3798 and state that they want to be tested at the Fairmont site.
WVU Medicine, meanwhile, said it will re-open a portion of Fairmont Regional if needed because of the ongoing pandemic. WVU Medicine did not comment on Fairmont Regional Monday.
Reporter David Beard contributed to this story.