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CURRENT STORIES


FGH takes appeal to circuit court

by Jim Fisher

METRO EDITOR

FAIRMONT -- Fairmont General Hospital's attorney mailed appeal documents to Marion County Circuit Court on Thursday, said FGH interim CEO Mike Sengewalt.

The hospital is appealing a recent administrative law judge's ruling that upheld last year's decision by the state Health Care Authority granting approval for a new United Hospital Center.

Thomas Casto of Charleston is handling the appeal for Fairmont General. UHC's attorney is Bob O'Neil.

A clerk in the Marion County circuit clerk's office said Friday she did not believe the documents had arrived in the mail. That means it may be Tuesday before they are officially filed.

Although the documents were mailed to Marion County, it wasn't clear Friday whether the case will remain in that county.

United Hospital Center also has appealed a ruling by the administrative law judge upholding the HCA's decision about hospital rates after the new facility is built. That appeal was filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court, said UHC President Bruce Carter.

"There's a legal issue that needs to be resolved. Usually, when there are two appeals filed on the same issue, they are consolidated," Carter said. "But that's something the judge needs to decide."

Even if the FGH appeal remains in Marion County, Carter did not believe that would hurt the Harrison County hospital's chances.

"From what I know of both judges, they are very capable of hearing the issues and rendering a fair decision," he said.

If the case stays, the next step is for a Marion County circuit judge to schedule a pre-hearing conference, Sengewalt said. That should happen in the next few weeks.

The appeal essentially will be the same arguments made before Administrative Law Judge Martha Hill.

FGH officials contend they don't have a problem with the concept of UHC building a new hospital, just the location.

Because the replacement facility is more than five miles from the present hospital, it violated the state health plan rules in effect when the application was filed, Casto argued.

O'Neil countered that because those rules were relaxed after the application was filed, but before the Health Care Authority's evidentiary hearing, the issue was moot.

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 essentially agreed with O'Neil in upholding the Health Care Authority's approval.

Although a circuit judge will issue a ruling either upholding or denying Hill's decision, there still remains one more possible further step.

Either side can appeal the circuit judge's decision to the state Supreme Court.

Metro Editor Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com