Updated with comments from Monongalia General Hospital.
Monongalia General Hospital filed March 12 with the West Virginia Health Care Authority requesting a hearing regarding the certificate of need for West Virginia University Hospitals' proposed $280 million expansion project that includes a 10-story tower.
The request delays the project, said WVUH President and CEO Bruce McClymonds.
"Every month of delay increases the likelihood of patients having to leave the state for care," McClymonds said. "It also makes the project more expensive, which could put some crucial segments of the expansion at risk."
Announced in January, the WVUH proposal responds to increased demand for patient services as well as to the growing educational, research and outreach missions of the Health Sciences Center.
It would expand WVU Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, the emergency department and the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center. A 10-story tower would expand the hospital's other intensive care units.
The project was expected to take four years to complete and to result in the addition of 139 new beds as well as a conversion of all patient rooms to private. It also would create expanded food service and conference spaces and additional elevators, parking and campus roadways.
It would be the hospitals' largest construction project since Ruby Memorial Hospital was built more than 20 years ago.
The reason Mon General requested the hearing, said President and CEO Darryl Duncan in a prepared statement, is to ensure accountability.
"The Certificate of Need request indicates WVU Hospitals will be spending $280 million on the expansion project and another $400 million in additional capital spending over the next eight years," Duncan said.
Health care reform requires a higher degree of accountability than in the past, he said.
"The focus of healthcare must move from a reactionary system to one of prevention and maintenance. And when hospital based services are required the value of those services should be considered – that is, the consumer should be receiving the highest quality care at the lowest possible cost. Mon Health System requested the public hearing so these questions can be answered in a public and accountable forum."
Time has some bearing on this expansion, McClymonds said.
"Last year, there were 1,988 hours when we had to delay transfers — the equivalent of 83 days — because our beds were full," McClymonds said. "This is occurring at an increasing rate."
Of about 30,000 patients WVUH cared for in 2011, about 5,000 are transferred each year from other hospitals around the state for specialty care, he said. Mon General is in the top five transferring hospitals.
"Lots of the services we deliver at WVU are only available within West Virginia at WVU," he said. "When we can't take them, their transfer might be delayed for a day or two or, their other alternative, in many cases, is to leave the state for that care."
Data show that new services added at WVU in recent years have reduced the number of transfers out of state, he said.
"If you look at our pediatric programs, we have a significantly broader scope of specialties than five years ago, and that plays out in medicine and in surgery too," he said. "This is really a statewide issue, not a county issue, and the ultimate losers, from a timing perspective, are the patients."
McClymonds reiterated, as stated at the time of the announcement, that no state funds will be sought for the project and no extraordinary rate increase is expected to finance the construction.
"We are happy to meet with Mon General to discuss their concerns," McClymonds said. "We hope that going forward, all parties will see the wisdom of this project and the urgent need for WVU Hospitals to upgrade and expand its facilities and services."