FAIRMONT — Marion County Delegates sent a letter to Gov. Jim Justice Thursday, urging him to use his power to keep Fairmont Regional Medical Center open for just a little longer.
Although officials of Alecto Healthcare Services, the owner of Fairmont Regional, said Feb. 18 that the hospital would close in 60 days, Michael Sarrao, executive vice president of Alecto, wrote in a letter Tuesday that it would close at 5 p.m. Thursday, which it did.
Now that West Virginia has confirmed two cases of COVID-19, Delegates Mike Caputo, Linda Longstreth and Michael Angelucci, believe Fairmont Regional will be necessary to handle an influx of sick patients who may need its services.
“We’re all very concerned about the coronavirus pandemic,” the letter says. “We are asking you, through your executive powers, to keep FRMC open during these difficult times.”
Angelucci received Sarrao’s letter Tuesday, and said the communication between Alecto and Marion County officials and residents has been bad for months. The hospital has been closing up its services since the announcement of its closure, but Angelucci said that closing any time before the end of March is too soon.
“They issued a 60-day WARN notice to employees, and we’re nowhere near 60 days,” Angelucci said. “It’s very frustrating that they give us a timeline and then they abruptly pull the rug out from under us and tell us ‘It’s not going to be 60 days, it’s going to be Thursday at 5 p.m.’”
Caputo said the coronavirus pandemic calls for emergency action, which Fairmont Regional could potentially aid in if it were to keep some services and facilities open.
“We are going to need every health care facility in the area to be ready to take care of patients,” Caputo said. “I just think that Fairmont Regional right now is up and running, and I would hope that the governor could utilize his executive powers and find a way, due to this crisis that is looming, to keep that hospital staffed, and at least an emergency room open.”
WVU Medicine announced March 13 its staff will take over Fairmont Regional following its closure, to operate on a local basis until its new hospital facility could be completed in 18-24 months. However, officials said there would be an approximately 30-day period where the hospital would not be operational, a window of time needed so staff could move equipment in to Fairmont Regional.
Caputo said he was unsure of how Fairmont Regional’s early closing would affect this move, but said that the staff still working at Fairmont Regional may be able to continue working under some sort of executive power from the governor.
“We still have wonderful staff at Fairmont Regional (Thursday), if we could find a way just to fund that and keep going,” Caputo said. “It’s all about the health and well-being of our citizenry, and we’re utilizing our tax dollars to do everything we can to provide a safe environment for everyone as far as even shutting down businesses and practicing social distancing.
“I would think included in that would be ‘Let’s keep this hospital open to provide care.’”
Tina Shaw, president of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, also said the simultaneous closing of Fairmont Regional and rise of coronavirus in the state has her worried.
“The closing of this hospital is going to hit at a very bad time with this virus spreading across the nation,” Shaw said. “We don’t know how bad it is right now. Are there even enough workers to handle it? I am very worried.”
Shaw was also present at the March 13 press conference where WVU Medicine officials announced plans to take over Fairmont Regional after a 30-day transition period. She said with the early closing of Fairmont Regional, she hopes WVU might be able to move its supplies in early, to be able to better deal with illness and the possible spread of coronavirus.
“This was before any confirmed cases in the state,” Shaw said. “It’s unfortunate, but because everything is going to be transferred over, it has to close.”