Hospital sold after 63 years of county ownership
Morgan County’s publicly owned hospital is in private hands again for the first time since 1947, when the West Virginia Foundation for Crippled Children gave “The Pines” — a former children’s clinic — to the Morgan County Court.
Last Thursday, March 25, Morgan County officials signed pre-closing documents that will sell War Memorial Hospital to Valley Health, a Virginia-based healthcare company.
Valley Health, which runs Winchester Medical Center and several other regional hospitals, paid $1.5 million for the hospital business and will lease the existing hospital facility for up to three years while it builds a new $30 million War Memorial Hospital nearby.
The company will pay $57,100 per month to the county during the lease
period. When the new 41-bed hospital is built on Fairview Drive, the county will retain its ownership of the 1920’s brick hospital building and accompanying real estate.
Valley Health will take possession of the hospital business and its license to operate on Thursday, April 1.
Valley Health has managed War Memorial Hospital for the county since 1989, when there was a threat that the local facility would close due to financial troubles.
End to long process
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” said Todd Way, Valley Health’s senior vice president, at the closing on Thursday.
“This has been a long journey for both sides,” Way said.
By 2008, the Morgan County Commission voted to move ahead with seeking bids for the business.
Valley Health was the sole bidder, offering $1.5 million for the hospital business. They also met the county’s condition that the new owner would commit to building a new hospital to replace the existing aging facility.
Final sale negotiations hit a snag when War Memorial’s application for a Certificate of Need — approval from the state to build a new hospital — was opposed by WVU Hospitals-East.
Following a public hearing in the fall of 2009, the state’s Health Care Authority granted their approval for a new War Memorial in January 2010.
“I think we would not have been successful with our certificate of need if it hadn’t been for the citizens of Morgan County,” said Way, referring to a letter campaign and other efforts by local citizens to show support for a new hospital.
“I appreciate that Valley Health stuck with us through this process. They could have thrown up their hands at any point,” said Commissioner Tommy Swaim, who has been the county’s representative on the hospital board for many years.
“This is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened in my 13 years as a commissioner,” he said.
Commission President Brenda Hutchinson expressed her belief that the sale and future new hospital would bring both financial and health benefits to Morgan County.
Commissioner Stacy Dugan, who is also an employee of Valley Health, observed the closing but said she had recused herself from all of the deal negotiations from the start.
Following several rounds of document signing, Todd Way presented a ceremonial check for $1.5 million to the commissioners, payable to “The Citizens of Morgan County.”
In discussions following the closing and other business, Hutchinson said proceeds from the hospital sale would be put toward paying down the county’s courthouse debt.
She and Swaim said the hospital sale wasn’t ever about money, but about being able to bring a new hospital to the county without adding a burden of debt to county taxpayers.
Questioned about plans for the existing hospital facility once it was vacant, Hutchinson said one option was using the campus to accommodate a residency program for doctors from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.
“There are a lot of possibilities out there. I think it’s exciting,” she said.