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Chief says Thomas Health ‘needed a partner’

SOUTH CHARLESTON — Thomas Health System needed a partner.

That’s the conclusion of WVU Medicine President and CEO Albert Wright when sizing up the decision by his system and Thomas to join forces first in a clinical and management agreement to be followed by full membership in the WVU Medicine system.

The deal was first announced Wednesday.

Wright said the South Charleston-based Thomas Health, which includes Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston and St. Francis Hospital in downtown Charleston, would probably be faced with linking up with a for-profit hospital company from outside of West Virginia without the new agreement.

“That’s not best for Thomas Health,” Wright said during an appearance Thursday on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

The agreement gets WVU Medicine into the Kanawha Valley and it will eventually provide Thomas the financial backing it needs to update its infrastructure, Wright said.

“Part of our agreement with them is to look at the feasibility of replacing their emergency department and building a new patient tower there,” Wright said. “If they’re going to have that level of reinvestment into their facility they needed a partner.”

Wright said WVU Medicine has been talking with Thomas for about five years but the system had to overcome several hurdles, including a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing that Thomas emerged from about a year ago.

“They’ve now got that health system to a point of being slightly profitable and we’re confident when we bring that together with the infrastructure of WVU Medicine we can do good things and we’re excited about it,” Wright said.

Thomas Health longtime president and CEO Dan Lauffer announced his retirement. Wright will take over those duties until a new person is chosen. Wright gives Lauffer and the Thomas Health Board a lot of credit for how it came up with a plan to deal with its debt and get out of bankruptcy.

“I take my hat off to Dan Lauffer. They did a lot of great work,” Wright said.

Wright predicted Thomas Health will do well in the WVU Medicine system like other hospitals have.

“Every hospital that has joined our system in the last decade has significantly increased the number of employees in their hospitals in their local communities and they’ve significantly increased the services that they have available and that will be the case at Thomas and in Charleston as well,” Wright said.

Wright said the agreement is not in response to CAMC’s recent announcement that it’s joining with Morgantown-based Mon Health to form Vandalia Health. He said he anticipates the new systems will have healthy competition.

“If we all do a good job it will mean better health care for state residents,” Wright said.