by Jim Fisher
CLARKSBURG -- An administrative law judge in Charleston has upheld the state Health Care Authority's approval of a replacement facility for United Hospital Center.
That decision came just days before Friday's deadline for Judge Martha Hill to rule. Lawyers for UHC and Fairmont General Hospital argued their cases before Hill in March.
Essentially, FGH attorney Thomas G. Casto argued that because the replacement facility is more than five miles from the present hospital, that violated the state health plan rules in effect when the application was filed.
But because those rules were relaxed after the application was filed but before the Health Care Authority's evidentiary hearing, the issue was moot, said UHC attorney Bob O'Neil. He argued that the application did not have to be in "perfect compliance" with the rules and also that the HCA was aware of the mileage discrepancy before the hearing.
Hill agreed with O'Neil's assessment.
" ... it is found that the Authority acted reasonably in granting the Certificate of Need ..." to UHC, according to Monday's decision. "Accordingly, the Authority's decision of October 24, 2003, should be affirmed."
Still, this might not be the end of what is becoming an extremely long and drawn-out process. UHC's original application was filed in July 2002. An evidentiary hearing was not scheduled until June 2003, and the HCA approved it in October.
FGH officials, who could not be reached for comment late Monday, have the possibility of two more appeals.
"We are very pleased," said UHC President Bruce Carter. "We believe it was the only decision she could make."
Metro Editor Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org