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U.S. Rep. Johnson tours WVU Medicine Barnesville Hospital

T-L Photos/CARRI GRAHAM Stacy Clark, operating room manager, shows U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson the O.R. during a tour of the WVU Medicine Barnesville Hospital on Thursday morning.

BARNESVILLE — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson toured WVU Medicine Barnesville Hospital on Thursday and spoke to staff about workforce challenges and the impact of COVID-19.

Johnson was greeted by hospital employees as he entered the facility Thursday morning. Heather Stack, director of quality, and Susan Redish, director of nursing, guided Johnson on a tour of the facility, showing him the laboratory services, post surgical rooms and the surgical areas.

Following the tour, Johnson met with CEO David Phillips for a roundtable discussion regarding challenges the hospital has faced amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Phillips said the health care industry has been through a lot over the last couple of years. He said that the earlier stages of the pandemic were vastly different from what they are dealing with today, noting that initially there were times where the hospital was scarce on beds and short on resources.

“What we find ourselves with today is we’re seeing peaks and valleys of cases. We’re in a peak right now with positive cases, but what we’re seeing is not as many hospitalizations, not as many severely ill people. And I think, from my perspective, it’s something that we’ll continue to have to manage as we go forward. It’s going to be a part of our everyday operations,” he said.

A big concern for Phillips is the workforce and the toll COVID-19 has taken on health care workers, adding that he also worries about labor shortages. He said it’s a “continual problem.”

“We all need to work together to find a solution going forward,” he added.

Johnson said there is a workforce shortage across the board in every field. Though there is no quick fix to this issue, Johnson said he believes there are a few changes that may help, including addressing and reforming Social Security and Medicare, and giving retirement age individuals the option to reenter the workforce without losing their benefits.

“Many Americans would like to stay in the workforce if they weren’t feeling at risk of losing their Social Security and health care benefits that they have invested their entire working lives to contribute to,” he said.

Another thing he said would help is to stop incentivising those who are not working. He said there is around a 60% labor participation rate.

“Whether it’s expanded unemployment or expanded child tax credits without any work requirements, you name it, there are a host of government incentives that are incentivising people to stay at home rather than come back to work and that needs to change,” he said.

Though COVID has “dominated” many aspects of the health care industry, Phillips said there are also positives such as the hospital’s relatively new relationship with West Virginia University. WVU Medicine acquired the facility in April 2021.

Phillips said he feels the hospital serves a vital need in Belmont County as well as for surrounding counties such as Monroe and Noble, where there are no hospitals. He said partnering with WVU ensured the facility would remain viable for the future and allow for growth. He said the administration has been able to reinvest in the staff by increasing wages, recruit physicians and keep people local.

Following the discussion, Johnson said rural hospitals are vital to the communities they serve.

“The role that they play, the services that they provide to people that live in rural America is so vitally important. People need to feel comfortable that when they’re sick or when they have a family member that’s ailing or hurt in an accident, or whatever, they have places to go,” he said.

“The challenges for rural hospitals are very different than the challenges for big, urban metropolitan areas.”

Johnson spoke highly of the Barnesville facility and what it provides for the community.

“It’s got character. I like it. You can tell that there’s a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge in this facility. They’ve been doing it for a long time, and I’m sure people that come here, it gives them a sense of comfort knowing that they’re being treated by people that know what they’re doing,” he said.

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