FAIRMONT – The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill almost unanimously that would exempt the buyer of a health care facility from having to acquire a Certificate of Need before completing the purchase.
According to Del. Mike Caputo, (D-Marion), he and Delegates Michael Angelucci, (D-Marion), and Linda Longstreth, (D-Marion), sponsored House Bill 4971 in order to streamline the process for any potential buyer of Fairmont Regional Medical Center.
The bill passed with 97 yes votes and three delegates were absent.
“It was absolutely motivated by Fairmont Regional,” Caputo said. “This basically covers the problem I believe that we have in Fairmont and could help streamline it if a potential buyer comes along.”
Officials of Alecto Healthcare Services – owners of Fairmont Regional – announced last Tuesday they were “winding down” operations at the local hospital and closing within 60 days. Since the announcement, delegates have been working with Gov. Jim Justice to find ways to potentially keep the hospitals from closing.
Because Fairmont Regional is privately owned, the Delegates’ only method of aid was passing legislature.
“Fairmont Regional is privately owned so we can’t do anything; we can’t give them money, can’t say ‘We will keep you open,’” Longstreth said. “All we can do is bring the right people to the table, and make a legislative move to be able to let someone come in more quickly.”
The language of the bill allows for the current Certificate of Need to be acquired after the purchase of a health care facility, which would allow Fairmont Regional to be immediately assured of remaining open after its purchase.
“It would allow for the elimination of the Certificate of Need for hospitals that want to purchase a hospital that is closing,” Angelucci said. “Our mind set behind that is that it would streamline the process if another hospital such as WVU Medicine or Mon Health would be able to purchase Fairmont Regional Medical Center to keep them open.”
With WVU Medicine and Mon Health both potential players in the health care field in the region, Longstreth said this bill could help them more quickly decide whether or not to purchase Fairmont Regional.
“This way, they can come in, keep the hospital running and then get their Certificate of Need,” Longstreth said. “Basically we know that WVU and Mon General already have one so we were trying to do it to hopefully make it easier for them to make a decision.”
More than 20 states, including West Virginia, require health care providers to apply for and acquire a Certificate of Need prior to starting a health care facility.In West Virginia, applications are handled through the West Virginia Health Care Authority.
Caputo said that while the process is not difficult for health care officials, it could take more time than Fairmont Regional has left.
“It’s not a really cumbersome process from what I’m told, but it usually takes at least 60 days to complete a Certificate of Need,” Caputo said. “What we’re trying to do here is to show any potential buyer out there or someone who wants to take over this hospital that we’re willing to work with you, we’re willing to do what we can on a legislative level to streamline that process for Fairmont.”
Caputo, Angelucci and Longstreth agree that keeping Fairmont Regional open is imperative to the people of Marion County, and the support from the House of Delegates in its entirety was an indication of its importance.
“Our goal is to do everything we possibly can to keep our hospital open,” Angelucci said. “This was one way that we felt we could streamline the process that would allow another hospital to come in, purchase their assets and keep the 600 people that are set to lose their jobs employed, and make sure Fairmont and Marion County have access to a hospital.”
The loss of multiple community hospitals throughout West Virginia over the past decades has the Delegates concerned that legislation like this is important. Longstreth said she hopes this bill can help hospitals in the future.
“If this happens again to another hospital, we won’t have to go through this procedure,” Longstreth said.