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Closure of Bellaire hospital felt by elderly, those without vehicles

T-L Photo/SHELLEY HANSON WHILE WAITING for his car to be serviced in Bellaire, Fred Smith of Clarington eats and reads at McDonald’s last Thursday. He says Belmont Community Hospital in Bellaire was the closest facility to him with an emergency room before it closed last April.

BELLAIRE — Those who live and shop in the village say the closure of Belmont Community Hospital last April has had an impact on their lives, but not everyone believes it has been negative.

The people interviewed by The Times Leader, however, did mention they are concerned about the recent closure of Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and the pending Oct. 7 closure of East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry by California-based Alecto Healthcare.

Bellaire resident Linda Duffey said she misses having Belmont Community Hospital open. She gave birth to all of her children there, and several of her grandchildren were born there, too. Now she uses Wheeling Hospital and EORH.

“I hope they don’t shut that down,” she said of EORH. “There are a lot of senior citizens who live up that way.”

Bellaire resident Coleman Lipperman said while he did use the Belmont Community Hospital’s ER several times in past years, he does not believe the village needed its own hospital.

“Bellaire was very convenient, but a town as small as Bellaire shouldn’t have a hospital. … Maybe we were spoiled. … When I heard about OVMC closing, I was like, ‘What?'” Lipperman said.

Lipperman said if he had to go to an ER now, he would likely choose EORH while it still is open.

Bellaire resident Milisa Brown said she used Belmont Community Hospital on a frequent basis because she could either walk to it or take a bus. After it closed she starting going to OVMC via bus. Now, however, she will have to take two different buses to reach Wheeling Hospital because she does not drive herself, and cannot depend on others to get her there.

“I used to go there all the time,” Brown said of BCH. “If it wasn’t for Bellaire I probably would have died because of my gall bladder.”

Brown said she also is concerned about the closure of the Hillcrest psychiatric services at OVMC. She said she knows of several people who have sought care there that saved their lives.

“They need a Hillcrest badly,” she said. “The Ohio Valley depends on Hillcrest. There are a lot of people in Bellaire who don’t drive. It’s a shame. The need to open an ER in Bellaire. A lot of people don’t have a family doctor.”

Bellaire resident Sharon Valloric said when she had her attack in 2016 it took her son two minutes to arrive at her house, and another five minutes for an emergency squad to get her to Belmont Community Hospital. She said when medicines they gave her there did not work, she was transferred to Wheeling Hospital where she received three stents in her coronary artery.

“My coronary artery was blocked. I couldn’t breathe,” she said, noting she was glad there was a hospital in her hometown at the time.

Since then she has received followup care from a doctor in offices at OVMC. That doctor, however, may have to move his office, she said.

“It effects us in Clarington,” said Clarington area resident Fred Smith of the Bellaire hospital closure, while eating at the McDonald’s in Bellaire last Thursday.

“It’s a really sad and bad situation. … It’s 40 miles to Wheeling Hospital,” Smith said, adding when BCH was open it was the closest hospital to travel to.

Smith said when his late wife, Christine, needed extra heart care two years ago they sometimes traveled to a hospital in , W.Va. Those who live in Sardis, he noted, sometimes travel to a hospital in Marietta, he said.

Smith said in the past they sometimes would use the emergency room at the hospital in Glen Dale. Other times they would use Wheeling Hospital. He noted the wait at both facilities will likely get longer now that OVMC has closed and EORH’s closure is pending.

Smith said he puts a lot of blame on politicians for not taking action when businesses and institutions are struggling.

“They always drop the ball — (like) with Ormet. It’s the same with West Virginia and Ohio politicians. We just kind of get lost down here. … There are not enough votes here,” he said.

Village of Bellaire Treasurer Tom Sable said the village likely will not see the full impact of the hospital closing for another three to six months. He noted in the fourth quarter the financials related to the collection of the 1 percent income tax will begin to be seen in November and December.

“There has been an influx of businesses in town so there has been an uptick in that sense,” Sable said. “But I don’t want to give people false hope.”

Sable said the closing of OVMC and the pending closure of EORH could also have an impact on Bellaire’s income tax collections in the future. However, the village is evolving, he noted. With the anticipated coming of an ethane cracker plant in Dilles Bottom, Sable said many companies are getting ready, including those in Bellaire.

“I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom in our area. We’re evolving into something else,” he said.

Sable said on the health care side of the equation, he has not personally been impacted by the closure of Belmont Community Hospital, but he is concerned with the closure of OVMC and pending closure of EORH.

When it comes to emergency care, he noted, it will be more difficult and time consuming for those on the Ohio side to get timely care. Especially when road work is occurring on Interstates 70 and 470.

The Belmont Community Hospital building is owned by Wheeling Hospital. Not long after its closure, many of the hospital’s services were transferred to nearby Bellaire Health Center.

Wheeling Hospital also still has plans to offer surgical services at the former Compassionate Care Center for Surgical Excellence, located along Ohio 7 near Bridgeport, said Thea Gompers, Wheeling Hospital spokeswoman. She said the Ambulatory Surgical Center building still is being updated and is expected to open sometime this fall.

She noted the Bellaire Health Center also now has a pharmacy. The hours are expected to be expanded and a drive-through installed in the future.

“You don’t have to be a patient to fill a prescription there,” she added.

Services available at the health center include lab work, blood work, X-rays, physical therapy, family physicians, cardiology, internal medicine, a public pharmacy, podiatry, EKG, plastic surgery and occupational therapy.

Gompers said while some officials in news reports have mentioned without Martins Ferry the next closest hospitals are Barnesville Hospital and Trinity Medical Center in Steubenville, many have forgotten about Harrison Community Hospital, which has an emergency room, in Cadiz. It is owned by Wheeling Hospital.

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