The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

August 14, 2013

Judge: WVU Urgent Care operator is a public agency under state law

MORGANTOWN — University Health Associates is not a private practice for physicians but instead qualifies as a public agency under West Virginia law because of its “symbiotic relationship” with WVU Hospitals, a judge says. That means its records are subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

The decision in Monongalia County Circuit is a victory for Mon General Hospital, a competitor that sued UHA last summer in an unsuccessful bid to stop the relocation of WVU Urgent Care in Morgantown. Among other things, Mon General demanded access to UHA’s books to help justify its objections to the state Health Care Authority.

Mon General President Darryl Duncan said Tuesday he was pleased with the ruling and suggested it may affect other cases involving West Virginia University Medical Corp., which does business as UHA.

It’s the second time the circuit court has reached this conclusion, Duncan said, “and we felt the facts were always there to support this decision.”

Mon General has long argued that UHA and WVU Medical Corp. are subject to FOIA because UHA is the clinical practice arm for WVU physicians, controlled directly by WVU Hospitals and West Virginia United Health Systems.

WVU Medical Corp. and UHA issued a statement saying they intend to appeal the ruling.

“We respectfully believe that it is in error,” said spokeswoman Amy Johns.

But Judge Phillip Gaujot said his decision complies with West Virginia’s “resounding public policy” of having a citizenry informed about the affairs of its government.

“The FOIA itself is a unique mechanism to remove the shroud of secrecy that can sometimes cloud governmental affairs, particularly adverse to accountability to the populace,” he wrote. “The FOIA is meant to empower the citizenry with perhaps its greatest tool, and that is knowledge.”

Gaujot’s order was entered last week, but Mon General made it public Tuesday. It also denies a motion to dismiss the underlying lawsuit filed last summer.

Duncan has denied his objective was to stop the relocation of the urgent care, which occurred in June.

Rather, Duncan wants all health care providers affiliated with WVU to go through the same review process as any other provider in the state when it comes to obtaining certificates of need for projects.

The Health Care Authority requires certificates of need for projects exceeding $2.9 million unless the entity is exempt. UHA argued it was a private practice and therefore exempt from the process. UHA contends it was created as a private physician practice more than 30 years ago, with its own bylaws, members and board of directors.

The Health Care Authority agreed, and in April, the Office of Judges upheld that decision.

UHA also argues it was neither created nor funded by any state or local authority.

But Gaujot said that argument ignores the reality of what he called an “intimate nexus” and “a symbiotic relationship” between WVU Medical Corp. and WVU Hospitals.

They share, for example, the same chief financial officer, Gaujot said. And WVU Board of Governors Policy 55 declares that the FOIA applies to “all units, colleges and divisions” and their employees under the board’s jurisdiction.

“Physician faculty members of the WVU School of Medicine, as WVU employees, are subject to the FOIA” under that policy, the judge wrote.

WVU Medical Corp. has also received and benefited from state-issued bonds, he said, and it operates under bylaws that can only be amended with the written permission of WVU’s president.

WVU Medical Corp. was created by WVU Hospitals and the School of Medicine “specifically to do what WVU could not do on its own,” the judge said — bill and collect for physician services. “WVUMC is operating for the state’s direct benefit and/or at the state’s specific behest.”

It serves as “a conduit corporation and hand-in-hand” with WVU Hospitals on behalf of both WVU and the School of Medicine on many fronts, Gaujot wrote, with billing being the most important.

“Excess money,” he noted, “is remitted to WVU.”

The judge also cited a 2010 joint operating agreement between WVU, WVU Hospitals and WVU Medical Corp. to “function as a single strategic and economic unit, to be known as WVU Healthcare.”

Text Only
West Virginia
  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

  • Phares looks forward to retirement

    James Phares looked forward to the challenge and opportunity to help make a difference in a state education system under fire when he was hired in late 2012 as West Virginia’s schools superintendent.
    After 18 months, Phares will be stepping down on June 30 — which he said was set long ago as the day at age 61 that he’d walk with his wife into retirement.

    April 11, 2014

  • Teacher planning, abortion ban among W.Va. vetoes

    Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed about 200 bills and nixed eight this year, leaving teachers and abortion opponents unsatisfied.

    April 7, 2014

  • Spill company president ‘bears no fault’

    The president of Freedom Industries “bears no fault” for a West Virginia chemical spill that spurred a water-use ban for up to 10 days for 300,000 people, his lawyer says in a court filing.
    On Friday, Freedom President Gary Southern withdrew his application to get paid for work he already did during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. He also wanted Freedom and its insurance to cover his legal fees related to the Jan. 9 spill.

    April 5, 2014

  • Agencies to ask West Virginia residents about chemical spill

    Health agencies are making thousands of phone calls and going door-to-door to ask West Virginians how a January chemical spill affected them.
    The state Bureau for Public Health announced Thursday that volunteers will survey randomly selected households in nine counties about health concerns from the spill.

    April 5, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads