EMS teams are worried about hospital plans

MARTINS FERRY — With East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry and Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling set to close within three months, first responders are concerned about possible long travel times to get treatment.

Belmont County and Ohio County first responders are looking at the possibility of having to take patients to WVU Medicine Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale if Wheeling Hospital becomes overcrowded or is inaccessible due to road work.

Lt. Kaye Hall of the Belmont Volunteer Fire Department said the Belmont County Fire and Squad Officers Association will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the matter among themselves, but the current concern is the potential lack of availability at Wheeling Hospital.

“I’m sure it’s definitely going to impact us,” she said. “I talked to my chief about it, and we’re looking at having to go to Glen Dale, to Reynolds, which we never, ever do, since we’re so far out. We’re having a squad officers’ meeting in a few weeks, and we’ll know more then than we do now.”

Lou Vargo, director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said he expects Wheeling Hospital to be overcrowded after the closure, and many first responders are looking south for relief.

“With only one receiving hospital, that’s one of the questions we have — will patients be asking to go to Glen Dale?” Vargo said. “We’re expecting an increase in patients wanting to go to Reynolds due to overcrowding at Wheeling Hospital, with their long waits. … That’s true of all the other counties, like Belmont and Marshall counties.

“Obviously, it doesn’t matter what county they’re from — the first priority is the patient’s request, unless there’s a life-threatening situation, where we have no choice but to go to the nearest hospital.”

Vargo also discussed future problems he anticipates with emergency response as a result of impending road work on the Interstate 70 Fulton bridges, just east of the Wheeling Tunnel. With closures and delays being almost inevitable, Vargo said he’s frequently attending meetings to keep on top of the planning process.

“I don’t want to just wait until these projects start,” Vargo said. “With only one hospital in the city, there’s only one way to get to Wheeling Hospital, so we’re working very closely with the (West Virginia) Division of Highways. (Wheeling Fire Chief Larry) Helms and I have been talking at fire chiefs meetings, sheriff’s meeting, Wheeling Police Department meetings, not only about problems with construction on the interstate and on 2-Mile Hill. The interstate project is a big concern.

“My goal is to start emergency planning now, so when the contractors are ready to go early next year, our plans are already in place and we’ll be ready to go with it. We’re not waiting until the last minute to start planning this.”

In Marshall County, 911 Director Carol Robinson said the closures shouldn’t affect the county’s own response time, since most local patients were brought to Reynolds anyway.

“There’s really not that much difference,” Robinson said. “They can go to Reynolds or Wheeling. It’s sad and I hate (that the hospitals are closing), it’s just horrible. But as far as us getting patients to hospitals, we’re good. Before, it was up to the patient, but if it was something really bad, you really can’t pass this facility. It was up to them, but now they just don’t have an option.”