The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 19, 2013

The right to know

Public should have been better informed of decision to shut down RGH cardiac stent service

— Nearly five years ago, Raleigh General Hospital officials came to us with a well-thought-out and detailed plan to try to obtain state approval for establishing a life-saving advanced cardiac care unit in Beckley to serve southern West Virginians.

At that time we strongly believed, as we still do today, that the option for people throughout this area to be able to receive treatment in an angioplasty lab as quickly as possible, without having to endure an ambulance ride to Charleston, would indeed be a major step forward in health care services for us.

Working together with RGH and many other interested parties, the plans were revealed and contacts were made with then-Gov. Joe Manchin, who agreed that it indeed was something that was needed in Beckley.

Manchin helped champion the cause, and in a few short months approval was gained and RGH moved forward, making a major investment into facilities and by employing interventional cardiologists.

In late 2009, the heart unit opened, and almost immediately we were learning about citizens who indeed had their lives saved thanks to the quick care and treatment they were getting at RGH.

It was a true shining moment.

Since that time, hundreds of heart procedures have been performed in that angioplasty unit.

Then, late Thursday morning, while researching another story, a member of our staff was informed that cardiac stent procedures at RGH had been suspended until Monday.

We contacted RGH officials to inquire and were informed a short time later that, in fact, the report was true. The hospital said an “unexpected unavailability of physician coverage” forced them to enact the temporary closure. Other than that, they’ve had nothing else to say and have remained tight-lipped about it.

Also, a number of community leaders who serve on the RGH board of directors told us Friday they had no knowledge of what was happening either.

It seems rather odd that when RGH wanted and needed backing to bring the program on board, they were literally looking for every available means to trumpet it. Yet, when a problem apparently occurred this week concerning adequate staffing — to the point where it had to be shut down — nothing was communicated to the public until we asked.

RGH is a private, for-profit hospital owned by Lifepoint Hospitals based in Brentwood, Tenn. Technically, they can do what they want as a private entity.

However, lives may be in jeopardy due to this temporary suspension of advanced heart services, and the citizens of southern West Virginia should have been informed in a quick and descriptive manner.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way.

And the public had a right to know.