For many in the business and government community in Fairmont and Marion County, last fall’s layoff of 25 employees at Fairmont Regional Medical Center was a foreshadowing of future events.
On Tuesday, the community’s worst fears were realized when some 600 physicians, nurses and other personnel were greeted with letters saying the hospital, whose roots go back to 1939, would be closing in 60 days.
Fairmont Regional’s owners, California-based Alecto Healthcare Services, announced “that after a thorough evaluation of all available options, losses of more than $19 Million over the past 3 years, and an exhaustive, but unsuccessful, search for a strategic partner or buyer, the hospital has begun the process of winding down its operations.”
In his letter to employees, Fairmont Regional CEO said the local hospital will permanently close.
“You are all likely aware of the financial difficulties we have experienced at the hospital. Our plans to reorganize some administrative functions and develop other revenue sources were insufficient to stop the financial losses at FRMC. Our efforts to find a new buyer or new source of financing were also unsuccessful,” Adcock’s employee letter states.
On Sept. 18, 2019, Fairmont Regional gave pink slips to 25 employees and announced it was cutting costs in the wake of a sharp drop in revenue.
“Like other hospitals in West Virginia and across the country that are closing, planning to close, or filing for bankruptcy protection, FRMC has faced a number of challenges including difficulties recruiting physicians, vigorous competition from larger health systems for patients and physicians, declining patient volumes, the inability to qualify as a critical access hospital or sole community hospital (and the increased reimbursement from Medicare that comes along with such designations) due to its geographic location and the geographic location of other hospitals, decreasing reimbursement from all payors, increasing operating costs, and a physical plant that has required improvements as it has aged,” states the official statement from Alecto Healthcare Services. FRMC applauds Gov. Jim Justice’s formation of the Rural Medicine Task Force and is hopeful that a long-term solution for hospital care in Fairmont will be announced soon. “FRMC has made the difficult decision to commence the wind down process in the hopes that it will help facilitate a long-term solution,” the statement continued.
Chuck Hawkins has worked in housekeeping at Fairmont Regional for about six years, and said he was born in the hospital. For him, seeing the hospital close is sad because of the loss to the community and the loss of a job for all employees.
“There have been people here for over 40 years,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know what some of these people are going to do. I saw this coming but I didn’t know it would be this soon. It is a sad day.”
Members of the Fairmont business community were made aware of the closure on Tuesday morning via email from Marion County Chamber of Commerce President Tina Shaw.
“The Marion County Chamber of Commerce has always been committed to supporting quality healthcare in Marion County. We are deeply saddened by today’s announcement and stand in support of all employees. Our Chamber will continue to work with the Governor and our elected officials as a resolution for our local healthcare needs is found,” Shaw said in an official statement.
Since last September’s layoffs Alecto officials had been meeting with other health care companies in North Central West Virginia to try and come to a solution for the local hospital.
Officials at WVU Medicine said they are aware of the closure and are monitoring the situation.
“We’re certainly concerned about the implications this could have for the residents of Marion County, as well as the hospital’s employees. Our commitment is always to ensure West Virginians have access to critical healthcare services, and as a reminder, Marion County residents have quick access to many of our services at our Fairmont Gateway Clinic and Whitehall Medical including Urgent Care,” said a West Virginia University Health System spokesperson.
Like WVU Medicine, Mon Health System, which is based in Morgantown, is also monitoring the closure situation.
David Goldberg, president and CEO of Mon Health System, said he is saddened to hear news of the closure of the Fairmont hospital.
“We have a long history of collaboration with the hospital, clinicians, and citizens of Marion County. Mon Health System will continue to provide care, treatment, and programs to residents through our already established services. We’ve recently announced expansion of Mon Health services as part of our ongoing commitment to the community, adding to our cardiology, primary care, and soon-to-be women's health services. We will continue to monitor the community needs and meet those needs through Mon Health and other collaborations. The most important part of any solution is to ensure that citizens Greater Fairmont and its surrounding communities continue to have real choice in where they get their healthcare,” Goldberg said.
The closure announcement at Fairmont Regional comes about a week after Mon Health announced it would build anew health care center in White Hall. Mon Health has executed a Letter of Intent with to build a new, 7,800 square foot facility located in the Interstate 79 Technology Park in Fairmont, that will include new clinical office space for Mon Health Primary Care physicians.
The hospital shutdown has also grabbed attention in the nation’s Capitol. Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.), said hearing the news from his home county was saddening.
“This is where I grew up. And we know that the 11th largest county and the 7th largest city in West Virginia can’t survive without a quality hospital. This is an unfortunate and painful trend across rural America,” Manchin said in a prepared statement.
He said each time a rural hospital or clinic closes, it limits consumer access to healthcare and forces people to drive even farther for care.
“I am reaching out to every person and party involved to save the Fairmont Regional Medical Center and look forward to working with all parties to make sure that Fairmont has a hospital for the health and wellbeing of every citizen and for the economic wellbeing of the county,” said Manchin.
Alecto purchased the hospital in June 2014 for $15.3 million after the hospital went into bankruptcy.