The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 22, 2013

A new facility would be nice, but replacing Jackie Withrow Hospital won't likely be coming too soon

— Recently, a legislative audit called for the replacement of Jackie Withrow Hospital, saying the cost of repairs at the long-term care facility would far exceed building a new facility.

The current campus was built in the 1930s.

Auditors say it is no longer cost-efficient to run in its present condition, and repairs to it are estimated at $26.9 million by one consulting firm.

A new hospital built on a smaller scale and accommodating its patient numbers would run about $20.6 million instead, a study showed.

It also noted that running Jackie Withrow Hospital costs between $1.5 million and $2 million more per year than three other state-run facilities — Hopemont, Lakin and John C. Manchin Sr. hospitals. Further, the cost-per-patient at Withrow is $26,000 above that of the other three hospitals.

Inspections exposed “a great deal of deterioration in various parts of this hospital,” noted a 102-page report.

But not so fast...

Knocking it down and building a new one may not be the wisest option at this point.

Department of Health and Human Resources communications director Marsha Dadisman said while the DHHR agrees with many of the issues raised in the audit, there are other options available to address the problems.

“We want to be sure to take into consideration the benefits and detriments to the patients, families, employees and the community.” Dadisman said all of those things will be factored into an action plan.

Caryn Gresham, director of communications for the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, noted that the hospital, formerly Pinecrest Sanitarium, established under FDR’s New Deal in 1927 as a facility for tuberculosis treatment, is not currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but the facility is eligible.

“The State Historic Preservation Office is aware it is eligible and it is our goal to preserve and protect any building that is historically significant to the community, state and nation, like this one,” she said.

Cost is going to be a major issue, regardless. And given the state budget crunch that currently exists, big dollar outlays are certainly going to be closely scrutinized. A new facility would be nice, but...

No matter what the final decision is, keeping this health care facility in Beckley is good for the region.

All options need to be fully explored, and that will take some time.