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June hearing on challenge to WVU Hospitals plan

By Vicki Smith

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A public hearing on Mon General Hospital's challenge to the need for a $248 million expansion of WVU Hospitals has been set for June 12, setting the stage for a possible ruling by November.

The hearing will be held at the Charleston offices of the West Virginia Health Care Authority, where both sides are expected to present several witnesses. Depositions and evidence collection will occur in the meantime.

The hearing is about a month or two sooner than WVU Hospitals had anticipated, President and Chief Executive Officer Bruce McClymonds said Thursday. That means the six-month delay he predicted in March could be shortened, "but not by much."

Assuming a 3 percent inflation rate for construction costs, McClymonds added, every month of delay could add about $600,000 to the project. It currently includes $32 million in financing and other costs, bringing the total proposed investment to $280 million.

If the delays stretch far beyond this fall, WVU Hospitals might have to reconsider the scope of this project.

"But we're not there yet, at all," McClymonds said.

Several years ago, objections by Fairmont General Hospital delayed the eventual construction of United Hospital Center in Clarksburg by three years.

Mon General and its parent company have demanded the authority hold a hearing on whether the WVUH construction is necessary. Mon Health Systems President Darryl Duncan argued that West Virginia's certificate of need process is designed to control costs, improve quality and efficiency, and encourage collaboration.

But McClymonds said the smaller community hospital rebuffed offers of cooperation.

A Mon General spokesman didn't immediately comment Thursday. The hospital can withdraw its challenge at any time, but McClymonds said he has gotten no indication that will happen.

Meantime, patient admissions and diversions continue-and at a faster rate-at WVU Hospitals, McClymonds said. On Wednesday, not a single bed was available for adult patients. Only WVU Children's Hospital had space.

More than 5,000 patients a year are transferred to WVU Hospitals from other facilities in the region, including more than 200 last year from Mon General. Many need specialty services that only WVU Hospitals can deliver.

The expansion plan calls for adding 139 patient beds, including 15 in the neonatal intensive care unit. While overall deliveries are down in West Virginia, the number of high-risk deliveries is rising.

Obstetrics is one area where the two hospitals compete, and Mon General has a pending certificate of need request for a proposed $6 million expansion of its unit. WVUH has not challenged that request.

WVU Hospitals also wants to expand its emergency department, the Jon Michael Moore trauma center and morgue, and renovate clinical lab space.



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