RVHS shutting down

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Poor financial health has forced River Valley Health System to begin shutting down, hospital officials said this morning.

Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Poor financial health has forced River Valley Health System to begin shutting down, hospital officials said this morning.

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River Valley will close Jan. 27, meaning the loss of 450 jobs. The emergency department will discontinue operations Jan. 22.

Despite months of dealing with financial issues, looking for help from local, state and federal politicians, firing its chief executive officer and reorganizing its own membership, the board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to cease patient care operations at RVHS in Ironton and the hospital’s Portsmouth facility.

"We’ve done everything we can to keep the hospital open," interim CEO Dr. John Ross said. "Many people have given their best effort to do so, including the staff, physicians and the hospital board of trustees."

Decreases in reimbursement from the Medicaid and Medicare programs and a decline in utilization of services combined to produce significant financial losses over the last two years, Dr. Ross said in a news release issued today.

An increased patient census seen in the last two weeks, realized through the commitment of the hospital’s medical staff, administrative staff and employees was not enough to produce the cash flow essential for day-to-day operations, he said.

Board chairman Jim Weber said last week that the census numbered about 56 patients when the census at the same time last year was about 40.

Although an increase, it remained close to the break even point, and the income realized there would not arrive until April or May, Weber said.

Lawrence County Commission president Paul Herrell said this morning the shut down will be a devastating blow to the local economy.

"I think the direction they’re proceeding, to get it properly shut down, is doing the right thing with what money they have left," Herrell said.

It went too long, too far, he said about the hospital’s dwindling finances and its debt.

County officials and attorneys have met almost weekly with hospital board members, including when they appointed new board members, looking for ways to assist RVHS financially. A $500,000 loan was rescinded some weeks ago. Hospital board members kept asking for assistance.

"We have been doing everything we possibly can do, working day and night, but we’ve got to keep the county clear of it The taxpayers in Lawrence County can’t be responsible for the debt," Herrell said.

A loan to the hospital from county coffers would make the county liable for millions in debts, he said.

The commission even hired a law firm in Cincinnati to check into it, he added.

"And this (hospital) board has been doing everything possible, meeting two or three times a day at times," Herrell said.

Hospital administrators met with supervisors, the medical staff and others this morning, outlining shutdown procedures. Employees have received letters.

Employee meetings are scheduled for Thursday.

The board has organized a shut down plan that is committed to help assure the professional, ethical and moral well-being of its patients, employees and community, Dr. Ross said.

Board member Pat Clonch is also working with human resources direct Chuck O’Leary on a job fair for employees who will lose jobs, he said.

No other information was available about the shutdown procedures this morning.

Employees throughout River Valley reacted with tears and sadness this morning, said at least two who wished to remain anonymous.

Herrell said there is still hope because the county and board are still working on the issue.

"We’re not done with it yet," he said. "They have to take time to shut down in a safe manner but we hope we can come up with something before the shutdown is complete."

Hospital officials also have said that an affiliation with Genesis Hospital System would be a positive move, but the hospital’s bottom line must be attractive.

Genesis, which runs Cabell and St. Mary’s and one other hospital in West Virginia, entered discussions last year with RVHS.

Kathy Cosco, director of public affairs for Genesis, said Tuesday that Genesis was waiting on.

"We’ve been involved in discussions, but right now they’re addressing some of their own pressing issues," she said.