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Posted May 13, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Demand for care remains healthy

By James Heffernan -- jheffernan@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Despite an ailing economy, demand for health care in the Northern Shenandoah Valley remains strong.

Valley Health facilities treated more than 700,000 patients, handled 116,000 emergency-room visits, performed 18,000 surgeries and delivered 3,500 babies last year, its president and CEO, Michael J. Halseth, told corporation members during their semi-annual meeting Tuesday.

The regional health care provider has seen a slight reduction in volume this year, he said, mostly in elective procedures, and there have been some increases in charity care.

But Valley Health continues to focus on quality care and adding to its family. The nonprofit organization acquired Page Memorial Hospital in Luray and Hampshire Memorial Hospital in Romney, W.Va., in 2008, and opened the Wellness and Fitness Center, which now boasts 5,200 members, a figure "ahead of our projections and in spite of a difficult economy," Halseth said.

"We continue to grow our service area regionally," he said.

Valley Health has applied for a Certificate of Public Need from the state for a $178 million expansion of its flagship Winchester Medical Center campus to meet the future health needs of a growing population. The project, which is expected to take three years to complete, includes a six-story tower that will house an expanded emergency department, a new heart and vascular center and the addition of a second floor to WMC's imaging center.

"We have not yet received approval, but it is increasingly looking very positive," Halseth said.

The project will be partially funded with bond money, and officials will re-evaluate the bond market later this summer to determine if construction will need to be delayed, he said.

Vice President for Regional Operations M. Todd Way said Valley Health should hear back from the state on the COPN application no later than July 7, and construction is set to begin this fall. Work has already begun on the new five-story parking garage, he said.

Way said the organization has plans to build new hospitals in Luray and Hampshire County by 2011 and 2014, respectively.

Tuesday marked the final time that Halseth addressed members of the corporation as its chief executive. Mark H. Merrill, executive vice president of Texas Health Resources and president of the nonprofit health system's flagship, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, will assume the roles of president and CEO of Valley Health on June 8. Halseth is set to retire next month, but has agreed to stay on in a consulting role through the end of the year.

Valley Health Chairman F. Dixon Whitworth Jr. said Tuesday under Halseth's leadership, the organization has received numerous awards and undergone many significant changes, "some of them quiet and behind the scenes and some that would forever change the face of health care in the Northern Shenandoah Valley."

"He led by example, and people followed," Whitworth said, adding, "His legacy will lie in making us prepared for the changes and the challenges that the future will hold."

Halseth said it has been his privilege to lead Valley Health for the past 11 years.

"Winchester is a special place, and Valley Health is a special place," he said. "This is a great community."

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