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Posted July 22, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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W.Va. hospital project challenged

WVU Hospitals-East puts brakes on plans for new War Memorial

By James Heffernan -- jheffernan@nvdaily.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Valley Health's plans to acquire and build a new War Memorial Hospital have been put on hold after the Eastern Panhandle's other health care provider, West Virginia University Hospitals-East, filed a notice of opposition with the state Health Care Authority.

Winchester-based Valley Health has managed War Memorial for Morgan County since 1989. Last year, it responded to county commissioners' request for proposals to acquire the 62-year-old facility.

Valley Health's proposal includes a commitment to build a replacement hospital and nursing home at a cost of more than $30 million. The deal also includes a cash sum at closing and lease payments on the current hospital buildings while a new facility is constructed. If approved by the HCA, work is scheduled to begin early next year.

In a statement Tuesday, Valley Health called WVU Hospitals-East's opposition "a huge disappointment," saying the request for a public hearing will delay the start of the project by at least six months and likely add to its cost.

War Memorial President Neil McLaughlin added that the decision is "puzzling" given the fact that WVU Hospitals-East ultimately chose not to bid on the facility.

"Public hearing requests are very common in projects of this magnitude," WVU Hospitals-East says in a written response issued Tuesday. "We would like to have access to more information regarding the acquisition, and have the opportunity to ask questions."

"By no means do we intend to interfere with the construction of a new hospital for the residents of Morgan County," the statement reads. "As a regional health system, we know the importance of providing residents access to quality health care services close to home."

The opposition is the latest in a growing turf war between the two regional health care providers. In 2006, Valley Health's flagship, Winchester Medical Center, sought to delay WVU Hospitals-East's plans for a new emergency room and a 16-bed intensive care unit at City Hospital in Martinsburg, along with an upgrade to Jefferson Memorial Hospital's emergency room in Ranson.

The design phase of those projects has been completed, and WVU Hospitals-East plans to begin construction in the coming months, according to corporate spokeswoman Teresa McCabe.

On July 6, Valley Health broke ground on a 65,000-square-foot replacement for Hampshire Memorial Hospital in Romney. The work is scheduled to be completed in 2011.

McLaughlin said Valley Health has been "an excellent partner" in the region, "and we see the exciting things they're doing in Hampshire County and say, 'That could be us.'"

Valley Health Senior Vice President Todd Way noted that War Memorial staff are struggling to work efficiently in what has become a dated facility.

"This delay is needless and punishes the people of Morgan County," he said.

"Now is the time to build a replacement hospital -- the County Commissioners favor it, the community supports it and Valley Health is committed to it," McLaughlin said. "We trust that WVU Hospitals-East understands it, steps back and lets us take care of our community while they take care of theirs."

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