Employees and supporters rally for WMH

Rachel Baldwin rbaldwin@civitasmedia.com

October 12, 2013

WILLIAMSON - In an attempt to save a local hospital from a buy-out that would most likely mean it’s demise, employees and concerned citizens of the City of Williamson and within Mingo County packed the chambers of the Williamson City Hall Wednesday evening, voicing their objection to the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) system (non-profit) purchasing the Williamson Memorial Hospital (WMH), a for-profit facility.

The concerns and fears of those who attended the meeting and spoke do not stem from the fact that the hospital’s ownership will be changing hands, that has happened in the past with only a minimal effect on the employee structure of the healthcare facility. This time around, the cooperation that has already begun the buy-out process will produce completely different results.

Several employees addressed the crowd and stated that they have been told that ARH does not plan to employ any of those who are currently working at WMH. The second blow that the purchase would deliver is the fact that non-profit entities do not pay Business and Occupational (B&O) taxes, which would cripple the City of Williamson and would effect every department within. The revunue from the taxes make up approximately 43 percent of the city’s annual budget.

WV House of Delegate Justin Marcum stated during the meeting that he had been told the hospital would be used as a drug rehabilitation center while others mentioned the possibility of a psychiatric or skilled nursing facility. No definite plans have yet been announced by the ARH system. The only press release thus far from the potential buyers states simply that they have entered the preliminary stage of the buy-out and expect it to be completed by Feb. of 2014.

The news of the possible closure has created a ripple effect of concern that has spread throughout the Tug Valley area, and a few members of the public who gathered with family and friends for the council meeting, as well as the council members themselves, shared their personal feelings and thoughts about what WMH means to them.

Mae Stallard, who is an icon in the City of Williamson and is known to all for her years of devotion to her community, credited her many years of cardiac and strengthening therapy she had received at WMH for her ability to survive and overcome a life-threatening illness in March of this year that took her out of commission for several months.

“Russ Cassidy is a wonderful man that has encouraged me and pushed me to do my very best all these years,” said Stallard, who is now 84 years-old. “If I hadn’t been in decent shape physically, my doctors in Lexington told me I wouldn’t have survived. It was hard, I had a rough time, but I kept pushing and I never gave up.”

Connie Rockel, who serves as a city council member, could not choke back the tears as she shared her love for the nursing staff at WMH.

“In 2011, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. It was the most terrifying time of my life. The doctors and nurses not only took wonderful care of my husband - they also took care of me. I wouldn’t let myself fall apart in front of him, I had to be strong. But while he was being treated, they gathered around me and supported me and held me while I cried.”

“Today, we are blessed to be able to say that as of now, David is cancer free. I can’t begin to tell these wonderful people what they meant to us during out time of need. We love them and we will be forever grateful for the care they provided. You can’t find that everywhere…they are special people.”

Williamson Mayor Darrin McCormick encouraged all those in attendance to stay active in the fight to keep their facility open and stated that he and the council members would stand with them and join their cause. The WV Health Care Authority will have to agree to grant ARH a certificate of need before the buy-out can be finalized, and the goal of those who appose this are planning to attend the meeting on Oct. 16th at 11 a.m. in Charleston when this matter is put to vote.

HMA (the current owners of WMH) has their headquarters in Naples, Florida, and the names of John Starcher and Pete Lawson, who are employed at this location in top administrative roles, are the individuals who may be contacted if you would like to voice your concerns by calling 239-598-3131.

Paul Pinson, who has served many years as a WMH Board of Trustees members stressed to those in attendance of the importance of staying employed with the hospital when he knows and understands fully that it has to very tempting to seek employment elsewhere in the wake of this storm.

“While we are fighting this legal battle for you, please remain in your positions and continue delivering the high level of care that sets you apart from other facilities,” stated Pinson. “Encourage each other, keep the faith and let’s all work toward the same objective.”

Additional information regarding the ongoing battle to keep the WMH open and serving the needs of the public will be featured in upcoming issued of the Williamson Daily News.