Area hospitals made a strategic move to merge beneath the umbrella of University Healthcare (WVU) over a decade ago, and the results have been nothing short of inspiring. 

A little over 10 years ago, City Hospital (Martinsburg) and Jefferson Memorial Hospital struggled to keep up with the demands of a growing population. Separately, the two small hospitals put out proposals to various potential partners, and West Virginia University (WVU) responded positively to both. But they would need to join together to make the first regional hospital. The offer was accepted, and the partnership, born in 2005, is now University Healthcare, with Berkeley Medical Center and Jefferson Medical Center as branches.

Teresa McCabe, Vice President of marketing and development, explained. “The partnership allowed us to do what the independent hospitals couldn’t do. It increased the borrowing power and allowed us to get better rates on equipment. We’ve added new services, new buildings, and brought in more than two hundred new doctors.”

As McCabe described, the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, Center for Wound Care (both in Berkeley County), Sleep Lab, and Women’s Imaging Center (Jefferson County) are all state-of-the-art. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (Berkeley) assures women with high-risk pregnancies of specialized care for their babies, and the facilities at Jefferson have been completely transformed and updated.

Anthony Zelenka, President/CEO of University Healthcare, offered an overview of accomplishments and future hopes, citing the mission statement: “ … to improve the health of Panhandle residents.”

He emphasized the importance of “growing the business” and treating more patients. As a not-for-profit corporation, “ … the hospital makes money and reinvests it in new services, new equipment, and competitive wages and benefits for employees,” he said “The money doesn’t leave town—it doesn’t go to Morgantown. It is invested in the local hospital. Over the last six years, we’ve been able to maintain a profit margin and reinvest.”

University Healthcare’s 2015 goal was to recruit 10 first-rate new doctors—they actually obtained 33. An analysis of future doctor needs indicates that 50 new physicians will be needed within the next three years. Zelenka was happy to report that two doctors who graduated from the Harpers Ferry Family Medicine program recently have decided to stay and practice in the area.

On the transportation side of things, four new ambulances were recently purchased for transfers from Jefferson to Berkeley, or from Jefferson and Berkeley to Morgantown. A transport van was added for free shuttle service for families to and from Morgantown—for highly specialized services not offered here. And since April, patients with visits in Morgantown clinics can shuttle back and forth in one day.

Cancer services are now affiliated with the WVU Cancer Institute. All chemotherapy protocols go through Morgantown, assuring quality services and state-of-the-art equipment and technology. Regular breast and lung cancer screenings are available at both Berkeley and Jefferson—surgical treatment with two surgeons in Jefferson and five in Berkeley, and radiation at Berkeley.

Zelenka noted that emergency care at Jefferson is outstanding. “The door-to-door time is less than three hours, and the door-to-doctor time is about twenty minutes.”

Additionally, affiliated UrgentCare centers in Charles Town and Inwood take pressure off emergency rooms. They serve immediate needs, with no appointments necessary. Over the next three years, Zelenka hopes to enhance the primary care network, add ambulatory care outpatient sites, and add specialists in psychiatry, orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, and rehabilitative medicine.

They also look forward to more collaboration with community providers for addiction problems. And there’s 50 acres in Jefferson County that remains a source of great attention and excitement. Zelenka said the site will be “pad ready” this year, with water and sewer in.

On the other side of the Panhandle, a new building at Spring Mills in Berkeley County will house orthopedics, pediatrics, obstetrics, 3-D mammography, women’s health, rehabilitation (physical, occupational, and speech therapy), primary care, and an UrgentCare center.

Jefferson Medical Center, Ranson, WV — Photo © The Observer

Better Facilities, Better Doctors, Better Services

Dr. Konrad Nau, MD, Dean of WVU School of Medicine, Eastern Division, explained that medical students do hospital rotations in their third and fourth years. Some rotate to Charleston (WVU’s second medical school campus), and since 2002, some have come here to East Campus.

Since 1995, students have also received training in family medicine in Harpers Ferry. “The faculty has grown [throughout the Panhandle],” said Nau. “First it was just me and Dr. Cannarella [now Lorenzetti], and we started the residency program. It took us seven years to recruit a third doctor. Ten years ago, there were about fifteen faculty members. Now there are about ninety.”

This gives the hospital throughout the region the ability to attract new doctors who want to be part of a medical school. “They want an area small enough to have a community feel that also includes a medical school,” added Nau. “The faculty can be one-on-one with students. It’s a great experience for both doctors and students—lots of time together. With more doctors, more patients use the hospital system, and this lets the hospital expand, and add new clinics. We opened the first neonatal ICU east of Morgantown, and one of the Morgantown faculty relocated here.”

Nau is very pleased with the speed and quality of care for heart attack patients, as well. “The first thing done is catheter, balloon, stent; our cardiologists are on call twenty-four-seven,” he said. “The recommended response time from emergency room is less than ninety minutes, and ours is close to sixty minutes.”

Nau has a wish list for additional specialists, including a neurosurgeon for spine surgery, two heart and lung surgeons, and three vascular repair surgeons for major blood vessels. “It’s a challenge to get subspecialties because you can’t just recruit one person. Someone has to be on call twenty-four-seven.”

He would also like to see maternal/fetal medicine specialists for high-risk pregnancies with complications. “About a thousand babies are delivered here every year,” he noted, “and there are more older mothers, and too many young mothers, with diabetes.”

Nau emphasized that doctors, patients, and the community across both counties need to be engaged in preventative care, including permanent diet changes, smoking cessation, and exercise.

“All of this can happen because of the academic connection with the hospital,” he said. “New ideas and engagement weren’t here before the merger to the extent they are now.”

Walter Washington served on the Board of Directors of Jefferson before, during, and after the merger. “When I joined the Board of Jefferson Memorial in 2003,” he said, “they already knew they needed to merge with another hospital. The merger helped financially, and by recruiting doctors. Personally, I think that being part of a teaching hospital is the most important. We have residents in a twenty-five-bed hospital—not many twenty-five-bed hospitals can say that!”

Washington reported that when the Women’s Imaging Center was built in Jefferson County, it was the most technically advanced in the area, with doctors even sending patients from Winchester. Additionally, the emergency room at Jefferson Memorial has gone from modest numbers to over 25,000 visits per year.

That said, he believes the biggest issue is simply reaching people and making them aware of the facilities. “We want to keep people here for medical care,” he stressed. “People who move here often keep their old doctors. We have direct mailings and billboards, but reaching people is the challenge.”

“We’ve done our best to add services,” assured McCabe. “If people choose to go elsewhere, it won’t be because services and doctors are not here.”

— Featured image: Berkeley Medical Center, Martinsburg, WV — Photo © The Observer

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