Conflict between Weirton Medical Center and CHANGE, Inc. about Clinic Operation
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By Amy Purpura | West Virginia Watchdog
During the 2010 election, Weirton voters narrowly approved a bond levy of $37 million for construction of the new Weirton Elementary School. The approval also entailed that the levy would get matching funding of $19 million from the West Virginia School Building Authority.
On April 19, 2012, at a meeting with the mayor, city officials, and Superintendent Suzan Smith, residents of Preston Ave. near the current Weirton Elementary School were allowed to offer comments about the construction plans for the new school. At the end of this meeting, they were also first told about plans to build a health center as part of the school and allowed to voice their concerns.
Ms. Smith explained that any student, employee, or family member of one would be admitted to the clinic where they could see health professionals, have x-rays taken, lab work performed, or visit the pharmacy. The construction of this center would be made possible by the funding provided by tax payers in the bond levy, even though the original plans for the levy did not mention this project.
At this time, Weirton Medical Center was assumed to be on board with the project after sending a letter of support dated January 6, 2012 written by then CEO Dr. Joseph Endrich. This letter also extended support for the clinic to be under direction of CHANGE, Inc.
However, shortly later, on June 14, 2012, interim CEO of Weirton Medical Center, Charles O’Brien, sent a letter rescinding support for the school based health clinic, expressing concerns about the negative impact it would have on the hospital. This new CEO was brought in after Dr. Endrich’s retirement to turn around the hospital’s poor finances and revive Weirton Medical Center.
It was said that Dr. Endrich had written his letter of support without consulting the hospital’s board of trustees. Given the struggling financial situation at the hospital and the extra competition that a publicly funded clinic would bring into the market, this letter in January demonstrated that Weirton Medical Center was not aware of the consequences of their decision to back it.
Afterwards, at a meeting with city officials, Ms. Smith became convinced that the private sector should be involved in this clinic, and as a result, she scheduled a series of meetings to be held with Hancock County Schools, CHANGE, Inc., and representatives from Weirton Medical Center.
While these meetings were meant to bring resolution to the matter, they only ended in further disagreement between the parties. No representatives from CHANGE, Inc. attended the proceedings, so there was no way to address concerns about who should be in charge of clinic operation. The school board also did little to ensure Weirton Medical Center that the clinic would not affect its future plans for their business model. At this point, the hospital became staunchly opposed to construction of the school based clinic.
In West Virginia, there are currently sixty-eight health centers that operate out of schools, similar to the plans for the one in Weirton. Each one has a sponsoring agency that oversees direction of the clinic. In Weirton, CHANGE, Inc. was placed in this position of control, even though their organization is categorized as one providing employment procurement assistance and job training under the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE). Out of all the school based health centers in the state, sixty-five are operated by an agency categorized as health related, be it under hospital, community clinic, or health treatment facility, giving those organizations more medical capacity and credibility.
Weirton Medical Center attempted to be made the sponsoring agency at this clinic due to their interest as a hospital in the city, but CHANGE, Inc. resisted these attempts for unidentified reasons. As a result, the medical capabilities of the school clinic had to be adjusted before it was built. Plans for construction included an x-ray room, pharmacy, and lab, but those rooms were renamed and given a new purpose after Weirton Medical Center withdrew support.
While it is unknown why CHANGE, Inc. fought so hard for operation of the clinic, the organization has seen large increases in their revenue over the last four years. From 2008 to 2010, their funding increased 120% from almost $5 million to over $10 million. In addition, CEO of CHANGE, Inc., Judy Raveaux, saw a salary increase of 36% from $71,565 to $97,326. During this time, the organization has added three doctors with salaries over $400,000 and a pharmacist to its payroll, increasing the total compensation paid to medical professionals by 1016%.
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