WILLIAMSON -It’s not often that a standing room only crowd attends a Williamson City Council meeting, but Wednesday evening’s meeting inside the Williamson City Hall was the exception, with every seat taken while others chose to stand.
The topic of concern for everyone who attended is the pending sell of the Williamson Memorial Hospital (WMH) to the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) system, which was announced to the public earlier this week. WMH is a for-profit facility while ARH is a non-profit system. If the hospital is indeed purchased by ARH, not only with the WMH hospital employees find themselves without a job, numerous Williamson city workers will be standing in the unemployment line along with them due to the substantial decrease of Business and Occupational (B&O) taxes that plays a big part of making up the revenue for the city budget.
Williamson Mayor Darrin McCormick opened the meeting and thanked each person for taking time out of their evening to join the unified battle to keep their hospital open to serve the needs of the public like it has done for many years in the past.
“Standing alone, we can’t do a lot,” stated McCormick. “But approaching this as a unified front with one objective and one voice - we will be heard.”
From doctor’s and nurses, to dietitians, maintenance workers, business office workers, pharmacists, x-ray techs and lab personnel, employees represented each and every department of WMH at the council meeting, proving that this is a great concern for employees as a whole.
WV House of Delegate member Justin Marcum was also in attendance, and told the crowd that he had been on the phone calling his constituents to rally their support.
“I have spoken with House Majority Leader Harry Keith White, Senator Art Kirkendoll and others to gather support for this cause and to inform them what is happening here in our town,” stated Marcum. “Governor Tomblin is out of the country right now on a business trip but he has been told about the possible buy-out and I can assure you that he is not pleased. He is behind you 100 percent, the same as the rest of the state legislatures that represent this county.”
Marcum stated that he had spoke with members of the top brass for ARH and was told that they intend to open a drug rehabilitation facility in the WMH building.
“Although I will be the first to tell you that we greatly need a facility such as this to fight the escalating drug problems in our communities, we don’t need one at the expense of loosing the only hospital within the borders of Mingo County.”
“A mutually acceptable solution needs to be reached that will work for all involved, including the current employees, the city and ARH.”
“I don’t want to rehash what I’ve already said during an interview with the Williamson Daily News, but I will tell you that the members of the Williamson City Council are your friends and we are with you in this fight,” stated the mayor. “This isn’t our first time down this road.”
“I encourage each and every one of and others who weren’t able to make it here this evening to travel to Charleston when the Health Care Authority meets to decide whether to grant ARH a certificate of need that must be approved and acquired prior to completion of the sale of WMH. Stand firm and let your concerns be known.”
Several physicians in attendance spoke to the crowd, including Dr. Panwar, Dr. Vyas, Dr. Pajarillo and Dr. Beckett. Each of them spoke of the important role the hospital plays in the community and of the many services that are offered, including a heart-cath lab that are not performed elsewhere. They also talked about the fine employees at WMH, how the level of care they provide could not be equaled anywhere else.
“This is more than a hospital,” stated Dr. Pajarillo, a pediatrician who has served the community for many years. “These people are my family, we are more than just co-workers.”
While speaking with the employees who attended the meeting, one can quickly see the love they have for one another and the overwhelming sense of camaraderie and closeness they feel for the group as a whole.
Joann Cunningham, an employee of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at WMH addressed the crowd and spoke of how her fellow employees had rallied around her in times of need and said that you can’t find that type of atmosphere at another facility.
A large amount of WMH’s employees began their careers at the healthcare facility and have remained there for the duration. Longevity of their employees is and has always been a sense of pride at the hospital, which explains why the workers are such a close unit.
Dr. Beckett, a WMH physician, came home to Williamson to practice after graduating from medical school to serve the residents of the local area.
“It’s not the building that makes it a hospital, its the people that work there that makes it such a great place,” remarked Beckett. “We will fight this process until the end. I personally don’t have anything against ARH but we feel this is not the best fit for us.”
A second article concerning this topic and the council meeting will be featured in Sunday’s edition of the Williamson Daily News.