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We need to make our hospitals healthy again

West Virginia's hospitals didn't get into financial trouble by themselves.

Judging by the grim-yet-cooperative spirit shown at a Wednesday symposium in Charleston, administrators know they can't get out of it alone, either.

We agree.

It is going to take a lot of hard work, business strategy and creativity on the part of many people to keep West Virginia's health care system operating in the black -- or just operating.

About a dozen of the state's 69 hospitals have posted patient services' losses for two consecutive years, symposium speakers said.

The shortfalls are related to the federal Balanced Budget Amendment of 1997, which limited reimbursements made through Medicaid and Medicare. Hospital administrators said the reimbursements are below their costs.

About 50 percent of West Virginia's patients use those services to purchase health care, making this state one of the hardest hit in the nation.

Also contributing to the state's financial woes is the state Public Employees Insurance Agency, which is also underfunding services for the thousands of West Virginians it covers, speakers said.

At the symposium, conducted by the West Virginia Hospital Association, more than 100 attendees from health care, lending organizations, business, government, labor and the media gathered to discuss these issues and possible strategies to deal with them.

While no clear-cut plan emerged, we agree with state Secretary Joan Ohl, Department of Health and Human Services, that a critical dialogue was opened. We applaud the association and every attendee for accomplishing this.

We also encourage that it continue until the current generation of problems are solved and a multi-sectored team is in place to deal with future issues.

The continuation of high-quality health care in this rural, aging state is everyone's problem. Let's get to work.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Matt Harvey, Nora Edinger and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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