The Times West Virginian

Opinion

April 6, 2014

COLUMN: Fairmont General Hospital vital part of community

There’s nothing better than holding a newborn baby. It gives you a little feeling that not only is everything right in the world, but this perfect little human represents hope of a future where things will be better than they are today.

I had that blessed opportunity to hold that hopeful future in my arms last week when I visited my dear friend Jen and her newborn son Tristan at Fairmont General Hospital. By the way, he’s just perfect, and a very hearty congrats again to parents Jen and Brad on their bouncing baby boy.

So many memories flooded back to me walking through the doors of the maternity wing. I’d given birth to three babies in the past 12 years there. I’d done it by choice. I’ve had many friends and acquaintances who have chosen to deliver babies in hospitals to the south and north of us, but it was important to me to support my local hospital and local doctors. I’ve never once regretted that decision, and my experiences were always pleasant — as pleasant as you can expect childbirth to be — and I was satisfied with the level of care my children and I received there.

Walking through FGH brings back memories of joy, like when I delivered my three beautiful children, memories of anxiety, like sitting in the waiting room during a few surgeries for Hal, and memories of sadness, like the time we visited Mike’s grandmother in ICU right before she passed away.

I’ve had surgery there, stress tests, nuclear medicine tests, extended hospital stays, emergency room visits, cardiology appointments and blood work. I’ve held the hands of my little ones who were frightened when IVs were placed in their arms and stayed up all night watching bad television while my daughter slept restlessly in a crib.

In fact, my daughter Jay became very, very ill as a toddler while visiting her grandmother in Elkins. Her vitals crashed and she collapsed because of an RSV infection, and thank God her father was there to see it happen and scooped her up and rushed her to the hospital in Elkins. I drove too fast all the way there, way too fast, and demanded that she be transferred to FGH within five minutes of arriving despite the doctor’s protests.

I followed an ambulance from Randolph County and breathed a sigh of relief when we pulled into the bay at FGH because I knew she’d be under the care of her doctors and as close to home as possible. So I’m not sure I need to emphasize any more how much I value having FGH in our community. And you can certainly count me among those who have been concerned about the hospital’s future over the past few years.

It wasn’t just about the 700 jobs and the fact that FGH is the fourth-largest employer in our county. That was part of it, of course. It’s about the level of care my family has received there and concerns that if it were to close, care for my family would be at least 20 more minutes away on a good day with no traffic.

It started a few years ago with the loss of sole-provider status, a very large benefit that the hospital received from Medicare, after the construction of United Hospital Center placed that facility within a certain distance considered too close for FGH to claim that distinction.

Then FGH officials announced that it wanted to explore a strategic partnership to help the financially struggling institution.

That was followed by the announcement last summer that FGH would enter into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Officials explained that the only way the hospital would be appealing to possible partners would be to restructure debt and look at long-term commitments, like labor contracts.

That was followed by union negotiations, which worked out for both parties out of a sense of “have to” in order to keep the hospital in our community.

The culmination, so far, was the announcement last week that FGH would enter into a partnership with the for-profit Alecto Healthcare. That has to be approved by the court, of course, and isn’t final. Alecto, the Los Angeles-based company, has acquired 20 acute-care hospitals and was one of at least three entities that submitted proposals to participate as a strategic partner.

Before the deal is complete, there will be a public auction to determine if there are any other entities that have emerged or might emerge to make a better bid than what Alecto has proposed.

I don’t know what the future holds with this deal — if this is the one that will bring FGH out of financial problems and make it stronger for the future. Maybe some other partnership will emerge. And I don’t know what the hospital will be like going forward or what a partnership will mean for the patients and the community.

But I do know what the announcement gave me. Just like holding Baby Tristan on the second-floor maternity ward last week, the announcement gave me hope for the future. It gave me just a little more peace that there will be a hospital here in my community to care for my family for years to come.

Misty Poe is the managing editor of the Times West Virginian. You can contact her by email at mpoe@timeswv.com, on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV or by phone at 304-367-2523.

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