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Manchin: WVU looking at Wheeling Hospital after settlement

WHEELING — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said lat week that West Virginia University Health System would likely take over operations at embattled Wheeling Hospital once an expected settlement between the local hospital and the U.S. Department of Justice is finalized.

The hospital announced this week it has lost more than $30 million over the past two years, and is looking into cost reductions and partnering with another institution.

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the hospital in March 2019. It accused the hospital of allegedly paying kickbacks to doctors since 2007, and giving them incentive payments based on how much patient business they referred back to the hospital.

“My understanding is that there were some practices there (at Wheeling Hospital) that were bad,” said Manchin, D-West Virginia. “I also understand there is a $50 million settlement they have with the Justice Department.

“But I also understand WVU is ready, willing and able to come in to take over and work with Wheeling Hospital. I know under the conditions they are quite anxious for that to happen.”

WVU Medicine took over management of Wheeling Hospital last June, but the overall operations are still overseen by the hospital’s board of directors and owned by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. WVU will be “coming in with eyes wide open” and be able to review all financial procedures at the hospital, Manchin said.

“My understanding is WVU wanted them (Wheeling Hospital) to get the lawsuit behind them so they knew where they stood. Now there’s a settlement coming up that we’ve heard about. When that is finalized, getting WVU in there will make a difference in the quality of care and the certainty of the hospital staying open,” Manchin said.

Officials with WVU Medicine could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.

Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry, both of which were owned by California-based Alecto Healthcare, closed last year, leaving Wheeling Hospital as the only major medical facility in Ohio County.

“I can tell you this — there is no way in the world we can close Wheeling Hospital,” Manchin said. “They are the main supplier for health care service in the Ohio Valley, and we cannot afford to close another hospital.”

Manchin also said there are things he can work on to help Wheeling Hospital stay financially afloat.

The first is to make certain they receive all the Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement dollars due them, and to work toward enhancing the system.

“West Virginia has quite a bit of Medicaid/Medicare patients,” he said. “For all our hospitals, it’s the number one source of revenue they receive.

“The demographics are older in West Virginia, so Medicaid/Medicare enhancement would help go a long way toward keeping people in our hospitals and making sure staff can take on any challenges there are.”

There also is stimulus money still available to rural hospitals through the federal C.A.R.E.S. Act, and Manchin said he is going to contact Wheeling Hospital to make certain they are taking full advantage.

He said the total amount of money directed to rural hospitals under the legislation is about $175 billion. About $113 billion has been allocated, leaving about $62 billion unclaimed, according to Manchin.

West Virginia Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said he is still waiting to hear word about Wheeling Hospital’s future.

“I haven’t heard anything definitive,” he said. “The issue of the settlement is still lingering out there, as is what is going to be the amount of the settlement.”

Wheeling Hospital already has a management agreement with WVU, Weld noted.

“Obviously a larger hospital entity with larger financial resources like WVU Health — not just managing but acquiring it — would be the best outcome for the hospital to assure long-term stability,” he said.

“I don’t know if WVU Health is going to or not, but they need someone like that with much larger financial resources.”

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