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DeWine: reopening of EORH is ‘a miracle’

OHIO GOV. Mike DeWine waves and smiles while walking off the East Ohio Regional Hospital campus on Monday during the grand reopening celebration of the hospital. (Photo by Scott McCloskey)

MARTINS FERRY — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine described the reopening of East Ohio Regional Hospital as “a miracle” during a grand opening celebration and Community Day held Monday at the facility in Martins Ferry.

DeWine said after learning that it was Dr. John Johnson — a physician and businessman with a proven track record in running other facilities successfully in Ohio — who was purchasing the facility, he had confidence the project could work.

“Once a hospital closes, it stays closed. Who has the guts to come in and say, ‘We’re going to reopen a hospital?'” DeWine said. “Dr. Johnson, thank you for that vision. It’s absolutely amazing.”

DeWine said his administration continues to be behind Johnson and EORH. He noted the Ohio Development Services Agency is working on another smaller loan for the facility. In September 2020 the hospital was approved for $10 million in loans from the State Controlling Board to help it reopen.

“The vision comes from Dr. Johnson and (Chief Operating Officer Bernie Albertini), thank you for your work. To walk in here today and see this hospital fully functioning is a miracle. It’s a wonderful thing,” DeWine said. “We have mayors here and county elected officials, and I know how much this means for the community and, frankly, to the Ohio Valley.”

DeWine said a hospital is the core of any community and having one that is functioning brings life to it.

“How do you value an emergency room that you can actually get into quickly and is close?” he added. “We all know in regard to emergency rooms … many times the time is the key determining factor of whether that person will survive or not survive. So having that functioning ER makes all the difference in the world.”

DeWine said the creation of jobs at the hospital also is significant.

“Any business that is looking to come into the Ohio Valley and into Martins Ferry, you got to have health care and got to have a hospital, and you want that health care to be there for your family and family members when you’re making those decisions,” DeWine noted.

DeWine said he also was pleased to learn the vast majority of the employees and residents in EORH’s long-term care center are vaccinated against COVID-19.

“That matters a lot. … That’s not always true in every nursing home,” he said.

DeWine also mentioned Johnson’s plans to open a mental health facility at EORH in the future.

“Dr. Johnson is someone who has a great background in helping people with mental health challenges. I know of his plans to expand what’s going on here in the Ohio Valley — the drug problem here in the Ohio Valley and the drug problem all across the state of Ohio. It’s not unique here, but making sure there is assistance and help that’s very, very important,” he said.

DeWine also thanked local officials, state leaders and more for being supportive of the hospital.

“This is a happy day, it’s a blessed day. I’m just delighted as the governor of Ohio to be here and to see this happening. I’m optimistic not only about the future of the state, but the future of the Ohio Valley. There are a lot of good things going on,” DeWine said. “And what we see today with this hospital is playing a major, major role in that future. … The future of Ohio is bright and the future of the Ohio Valley is bright.”

Johnson purchased the facility in the spring of 2020 after its former owner, Alecto Healthcare Services of California, closed it and its sister facility, Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling, in September 2019. The community was devastated and concerned about the future of health care in the region with two major hospitals being shut down. The reopening of EORH on Feb. 4 brought a renewed sense of pride and excitement for community members and the facility’s employees, now at about 500 people.

When introducing Johnson to the crowd, Albertini expressed his appreciation for what the Dayton-based, board-certified psychiatrist and entrepreneur has done.

“So when this hospital closed in fall 2019 it was devastating, economically as well as for the health care for our community,” Albertini said. “At that time, most of us saw no way forward and there was one person who did and it was Dr. Johnson. … Over the last year I’ve gotten to know Dr. Johnson pretty well, and his family. I can personally tell you that he is someone who truly cares. He’s not interested in just having a hospital; he truly is a humanitarian. That’s why I enjoy working with him so much. Dr. Johnson, on behalf of our community, thank you.”

Johnson said he’s always believed in providing access to health care to underserved people and communities. That is why so many of his organizations are named Access, he said.

“This is such a happy occasion that so many of us here had hoped to see for such a long time,” Johnson said. “East Ohio Regional Hospital had been open for 114 years before it closed in September 2019. Reopening it was not an easy task, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. And it took the commitment and hard work of so many people and the support of an incredible community.”

Johnson thanked local leaders, such as Martins Ferry Mayor John Davies, along with state and county leaders as well for their help and support.

Johnson said his continued vision for EORH also includes investing in technology.

“Access also means bridging the gap of inequalities that exist between the urban and rural counties or racial divides, which means bringing state-of-the-art technology and access to quality health care for all populations,” he said. “By investing in technology we aim to make sure EORH is run efficiently and cost effectively as possible, preparing us to evolve with the times and stay open for the next 100 years to come.”

Johnson said what he has learned also during his past 34 years of health care work is that there is a link between the health of a community and its economy.

“Improving the health of a community starts with improving the economic development of that community,” Johnson said. “EORH has sparked that development by adding 500 jobs.

“Now with support and investments we can capitalize more economic development here in the Ohio Valley. Health care is going through a digital transformation.

“Robotics, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, telemedicine, and digital health have the ability to add new capabilities. We can drive new job growth from all of that right here in the Ohio Valley. And with the right support of our government leaders we can also be a training center to develop the health care workforce of tomorrow, and implement new technologies.”

Johnson also thanked DeWine and Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, who also spoke during the event, and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio.

Johnson also thanked Albertini and the hospital’s department heads, nurses, doctors and staff whose “cheerful spirits and caring hearts serve everyone who comes through our doors.” He also thanked his family — including wife Latha; son Nithin; and daughter Neethi — for their support and work “to help shape the new EORH.”

“Most of all I want to thank the community and every single person who has enthusiastically supported and prayed for our new and improved hospital to become a success,” Johnson said.

Congressman Johnson said when he learned EORH was going to close he “panicked.” But when he learned about Johnson and his vision he felt more at ease.

“I should have known right up front that with a name like Johnson everything was going to be OK,” the congressman quipped.

He urged Johnson to keep in touch with him in the future.

Following the ceremony, Davies noted it was a great day for his city and for the Ohio Valley.

“I want to thank the city’s team for the work we did on our end, including Superintendent Bill Suto, Service Director Andy Sutak and City Council,” he said.

Several other members of City Council attended, including Tom Burns, Bruce Shrodes, Jack Regis Sr. and Suzanne Armstrong.

Belmont County Commissioners J.P. Dutton, Jerry Echemann and Josh Meyer also were in attendance.

During the ceremony, a moment of silence was held for Doug Dugan, the Tiltonsville fire chief who died recently. Albertini noted his funeral was held Monday.

The Rev. Thomas Marut, pastor of St. Mary Church of Martins Ferry, offered the opening prayer for the event.

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, a free Community Day was hosted by the EORH featuring bounce houses, games, food, treats and more for the public and hospital workers and their families to enjoy. One of the featured dunkees in the dunk tank game was Albertini, who appeared soaked to the bone.

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