The Times West Virginian

September 4, 2013

FGH taking needed steps to continue serving area

Times West Virginian

— Marion County needs an acute care hospital.

No one is celebrating over the fact that Fairmont General Hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week in federal court. But administrators say this move is necessary if there is any chance for the strategic partnership FGH has been seeking for the past two years.

In fact, Robert Marquardt, FGH president and CEO, described the decision made last week to file the bankruptcy claim as “not the preferred way to go” and a “painful action.”

We assume that’s because FGH is doing well financially, as net patients have increased by 12 percent and there’s been a $5 million increase in revenue this year. But administrators say the hospital “can’t go far enough, fast enough” to make it appealing as the organization moves forward trying to form a strategic partnership.

“In our search for a strategic partner, virtually all of the partners that expressed interest in us told us that they would not go forward without us filing for bankruptcy for reorganization,” Marquardt said. “It became very apparent to us that in order for us to go forward and position the hospital for the future, this is something that we had to do.”

There is certainly a trend with community hospitals joining health-care systems, and in light of laws that will go into effect in 2014 from the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, it’s a fiscally conservative move to make sure that facilities have the means to stay open, serving their communities.

Consider that a trip to FGH from White Hall or Pleasant Valley is just as long of a commute as it is to United Hospital Center. The proximity of UHC is where FGH’s financial problems began, as the hospital lost its Medicare sole provider status based on the number of miles between the hospital and the new UHC facility. That was a $3.5 million annual hit FGH couldn’t quite overcome.

But consider other communities FGH serves in this county, places more landlocked like Mannington or Fairview or Monongah and a host of other neighborhoods farther from interstate access. In an emergency, when seconds and minutes count, this community needs an acute care hospital to serve those residents in need. This county also needs a place where residents can see their physicians, have labs done, undergo surgical procedures, get diagnostic testing, give birth to children or be hospitalized for serious medical conditions.

That place has been FGH for more than 70 years. We believe that steps need to be taken to make sure that FGH can be the place for 70 more years to come.

But we cannot forget one important thing. The reason for FGH’s success in patient care has been the staff providing that care. One of the hospital’s largest financial burdens are the benefits it offers to its 850 part- and full-time employees. As the county’s fourth-largest employer, those salaries are just as important to the health of our local economy. Many employees have chosen to stay close to home and work within their own community out of a sense of loyalty, foregoing larger paychecks at facilities within reasonable driving distance. And a decent benefit package has been historically an incentive for those employees to stay.

We know there will be negotiations between the hospital and the two unions that represent two-thirds of the employees of the hospital. And we know there will be some give and take in the process. Our hopes are that everyone can walk away from negotiations with an agreement both sides can willingly accept.

The next year will be the one that defines FGH. And we certainly hope it maintains its status as our community hospital.