The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 14, 2013

Worth it


The Register-Herald

— It was with a great deal of satisfaction that we reported this week on the $9.4 million renovation at Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital.

The investment in “the miner’s hospital” that opened in 1956 is an acknowledgment by the nonprofit Appalachian Regional Healthcare, with its 10 hospitals in southern West Virginia and southeastern Kentucky, that B-ARH remains a key component in the regional health care equation.

We, too, think B-ARH is worth that investment.

The structural renovations include adding 19 new private rooms, a new entryway and façade, new windows, an upgraded HVAC system and three new elevators.

The work was designed to improve nursing efficiency and to contain and even reduce costs, said Rocco Massey, CEO of the Beckley facility.

“John L. Lewis and Eleanor Roosevelt conducted a ribbon-cutting to open the hospital in 1956,” Massey said of the former United Mine Workers of America leader and the former first lady. “That’s our heritage. We have a long tradition of providing quality health care to miners and their families.”

As coal-mining and related jobs have ebbed in southern West Virginia, health care and in particular hospitals like B-ARH are the new economic engines that are helping to diversify our economy.

“Hospitals are economic development entities,” said Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh, a longtime board member of B-ARH. “Whenever new businesses are looking at coming into the area, they want to know, ‘How are the health care and education systems?’”

And while B-ARH is a nonprofit, the mayor rightly notes that employees of the hospital “live in the area and spend in the area.”

Indeed, ARH is the third-largest private employer in southern West Virginia.

We’ve become a regional center for health care, thanks to B-ARH, Raleigh General Hospital, Beckley VA Medical Center, Plateau Medical Center, Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, Summers County ARH and Summersville Regional Medical Center.

Each has become a component of a larger mosaic that transcends merely economic benefits to our communities and the region.

True, hospitals are fixed assets that create good-paying jobs, which is particularly important in rural areas of the country. They also attract other health care- related businesses, and businesses that serve hospital employees and their families, as well as patients and their families.

But they also do much more, serving as teaching hubs, and as magnets for doctors and other professionals.

The mix that bubbles up from all this is about more than jobs, important as they may be. A vibrant and thriving medical community provides positives elsewhere in our lives — socially, culturally and educationally — that are not measured in dollars.

Mining and other mineral extraction jobs remain crucial to us in southern West Virginia, and we hope that those jobs soon rebound.

But hospitals are often overlooked as major engines of regional and local economic development.

We’re pleased that ARH continues to invest in its facilities in the region, understanding not just their importance to us in living healthy lives, but to help keep our economy healthy as well.