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Faithful pray for a bright future for hospitals

T-L Photo/ROBERT DEFRANK The Rev. Thomas Marut of St. Mary Church in Martins Ferry swings at a boulder representing the potential closure of East Ohio Regional Hospital during a prayer vigil Friday. The sledgehammer represents the prayers of those in attendance. They pledged continued prayers and support for community leaders working toward a new purchaser and continued operation.

MARTINS FERRY — Every prayer chips away at the hardship faced by the communities served by East Ohio Regional Hospital.

The Rev. William Webster of Grace Presbyterian Church of Martins Ferry made use of a boulder and sledgehammer to lead more than 50 employees and well-wishers in a prayer service held at EORH Friday evening.

“This represents our problem. The sledgehammer represents our prayers, and sometimes it takes more than one smack and more than one prayer to get our solutions and our answers,” Webster said.

More than 50 current and former hospital employees, patients, the faith community of Martins Ferry and others gathered at the parking lot for the prayer vigil. After the presentation, the speakers and attendees took a turn swinging the sledgehammer, and soon chunks of rock were breaking off.

“For 113 years this institution has brought hope and healing to our community, and it’s not stopping today,” Webster said.

Many shared what the hospital meant to them. Denise Paxton, director of volunteer services, told the history of the hospital, saying it has been a center of community outreach, including holding a tent at Jamboree in the Hills, health fairs, CPR classes, blood pressure clinics, teddy bear clinics, cancer support groups, and other programs.

Others included Dr. Robert Wetzel and Dr. John Kramer.

“My great-grandfather was one of the first trustees,” Kramer said. “I was born in this hospital, like many people here. My grandmother, my grandfather, died in this hospital. There’s love there.”

Also in attendance were Fr. Thomas Marut, of St. Marys, whose father was a founder of the hospital; the Rev. David Stammerjohn of First Presbyterian Church of Martins Ferry and the Rev. Larry Lewis of the First Baptist Church of Martins Ferry. Webster read a statement of support from Martins Ferry Mayor Robert Krajnyak.

The speakers referred to Biblical passages about hope, faith and perseverance, as they shared stories of the hospital and expressed support for community leaders working toward finding a new company to keep the 113-year-old site open.

Alecto president and CEO Daniel C. Dunmyer announced earlier this month that the two facilities will close within three months. He cited a $37 million loss over two years and the inability to secure a strategic partner as reasons for beginning the closure process.

Many were visibly emotional.

“My grandma and my grandfather worked here, and I got a job here,” Lawrence Miller, a maintenance man, said. “I was raised here, and to see it closed down breaks my heart…these are my friends, this is my family.”

“I’ve worked here since 1991 and I think this is a very convenient hospital in the Ohio Valley,” Kathy Ferguson, registered nurse, said.

Mike Fador, occupational therapist at the hospital, said he was a therapy student there and sought a position on starting his career. He spoke about the teamwork of the staff and the convenience to patients. His wife, Kimberly Fador, a nurse who does not work at the hospital, agreed.

“The impact of the community losing two community hospitals, and also the tertiary outpatient labs. The patients that I see, who need labs for other services now being limited to Wheeling Hospital, it’s really going to impact them,” she said. “Me taking their blood work, only having one area to go to, will limit the amount of patients we can see and service.”

Across the river, around two dozen OVMC employees were joined by a group of religious leaders Friday evening for their own outdoor prayer service. Six reverends and a priest read Bible passages before leading the gathered crowd in song.

Among the crowd was Stephanie Evonek, who described her co-workers as a family, a common sentiment among those to be laid off.

“I don’t want to lose my job,” Evonek said. “We’re not only co-workers, we are a family. I’ve been in my office — pre-authorization — and I love my job.”

The event at OVMC was coordinated by Vickie Grandstaff, Pastoral Care Coordinator.

The communities were asked to continue to pray every 5:30 p.m. for the future of the hospital.

Staff writer Alan Olson contributed to this story.

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