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Carter says search for property does not necessarily mean UHC i

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

State health care officials are lauding United Hospital Center's vision for the future.

Some local residents aren't quite as happy.

Last summer, UHC President Bruce Carter announced that the hospital administration was exploring the possibility of purchasing land in Harrison County should the hospital need to relocate to expand in the future, Carter said. If the hospital needs more room, the current location is severely limited and also has poor access.

The possible move has some Doddridge County and western Harrison County residents wondering if they still will have relatively easy access to health care if the hospital moves closer to Interstate 79.

"We have expressed our concerns to the hospital that if they move further away it will make it more difficult on our residents to get health care," said Doddridge County Commissioner Ora Ash. "Especially with that busy intersection at I-79 and Route 50. We've got a lot of elderly people that need good health care."

Last week, Carter said the list of acceptable sites in the county has been narrowed to three and he hopes to have a final selection to present to the hospital board by early spring.

But that does not mean that the hospital is definitely leaving the current site, he said, and even if the move is made, it may not be for a decade or more.

"There are two separate issues here and I think It's important to differentiate between the two," Carter said. "One, there is the selection and purchase of the site. Two, there is the actual move itself.

"Just because we do one, it doesn't mean the other will happen," he said.

UHC officials are ahead of the curve in preparing for the future, said Louie Paterno, one of three board members with the state Health Care Authority. Many hospitals across the state are becoming old and rundown and do not have the space to add technological advances and new services, he said. In addition, some hospital administrators are putting their backs to the wall by not making long-range plans.

"This is a real problem in the state and could turn into a crisis situation in just a few years," Paterno said. "So many facilities are in very bad shape and many don't have the funds to move and haven't made any plans for the future."

UHC doesn't have severe maintenance issues, Carter said, because hospital officials have spent money keeping the buildings in good repair. However, a day will most likely come when they will have to decide if pumping money into an aging facility is financially smart, he said.

And moving a large facility such as UHC is not an easy task. There are state and federal regulatory agencies that have to sign off on the plan, Paterno said.

"They would need to submit a plan and justify the expenditures and what they're doing," he said. "We need to see that everything is needed and that it makes sense for the area."

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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