JUST MY OPINION…by Tamara Pettit

      The announcement that Weirton Medical Center is embarking on a $9 million project to expand its emergency room is good news for our area and its residents.  But, that’s not just my opinion.  It’s the opinion of my daughter who had occasion to head to the WMC Emergency Room Saturday and the countless family members whose medical  needs couldn’t wait for a Monday morning call to their physician for attention. But, it also is an important component in our ability to attract and retain workers.   Like every resident I am ecstatic to see economic development finally occur in Hancock/Brooke counties.  But, the effort doesn’t stop when a new industry signs on the dotted line. That’s when local, State and Federal leaders go to work to make sure all the pieces are in place to support the workers and their families. Access to health care 24-hours a day is key. Who among us with kids hasn’t made a midnight run to the ER when our child’s temperature is sky high, and you can’t get it down or your loved one has chest pains and the drive to Pittsburgh or Wheeling may mean the difference between life or death? You need quality, state-of-the-art medical care and you need it close to home.

When it was built in 1978, the emergency room was allocated for an anticipated 24,000 patients a year.   In 1923, that number grew to 40,000, a 60% increase.   Why such a large increase?  As times have changed, so has healthcare.   Those who are on Medicaid, uninsured or self-pay often must use the Emergency Room as one would a private physician and Federal Law mandates they can’t be turned away.  That currently accounts for 1/3 of those who come through the emergency room.  Physicians whose schedules are so full, there is not an appointment to be had, send patients to the ER or tell patients if their symptoms get worse overnight or over the weekend, to head for the ER. 

As we look to the future and jobs for our kids and grandkids, we need to look at the entire picture if we are to attract or retain workers.   Our housing must be affordable, our area must be safe, our schools must be first-rate, and our health care must be state-of-the-art and accessible.   To fail to recognize the need for all the components is to set us up to fail.

WMC officials will eventually provide patients with a more streamlined, more spacious and more efficient Emergency Room experience.   Funding for the project has come through a variety of sources including a $6.4 million bond issued by WMC in 2022.  The project has been planned in three phases:  Phase 1 was completed when the WMC lab was relocated and rebuilt in 2022.   Phase 2 includes relocating endoscopy services from the ER area to the former location of the lab, which is nearer to the OR.  Phase 3 includes the expansion of the ER physical space.

To complete the funding, WMC has applied for a Federal HRSA (Health Resources & Services Administration) Grant.   Senators Shelly Moore Capito and Joe Manchin have been tireless advocates for us setting party labels aside for the greater good of our area.   I served with both Senators  during my 11 years in the legislature and I saw firsthand their commitment to the people of West Virginia.   They played a significant role in attracting Form Energy and other large and small business to our area in the past few years.    They both are familiar with the hard times the people of Hancock and Brooke Counties  have endured since the demise of Weirton Steel, and  they have fought hard to ensure we had every tool the Federal Government could provide.  I urge them to support Weirton Medical Center’s application for a HRSA grant to ensure our residents have quality,  accessible medical care when they need it.