Bluefield Regional Medical Center set to permanently close

MERCER COUNTY, WV (WOAY) -Princeton Community Hospital has announced the full closure of Bluefield Regional Medical Center effective July 30, 2020.

Princeton Community Hospital Board of Directors released the following message:

“When the Princeton Community Hospital Board of Directors approved the acquisition of Bluefield Regional Medical Center (BRMC) and its ancillary services on October 1, 2019, it was with the confidence and hope of stabilizing BRMC’s finances and enhancing their service lines.

To that end and in order to facilitate a more seamless transition, Princeton Community Hospital (PCH) retained substantially all employees in good standing including the entire senior administrative staff. Prior to the acquisition, PCH commissioned due diligence that evaluated the viability of BRMC and assisted with the development of a strategic plan for strengthening the facility.

Over the past several months, PCH has endeavored to accomplish a successful acquisition. Unfortunately, numerous market factors coupled with the unexpected and dramatic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, contributed to the further deterioration of BRMC’s financial situation. In addition to declining patient volume and services, most of the patients in our service area are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or PEIA. Reimbursement from these sources is consistently at a rate far less than the actual cost of caring for the patient.

Because of significant financial losses, the PCH Board of Directors made the decision to permanently close BRMC’s inpatient and ancillary services by July 30, 2020. PCH leadership is working with state and federal authorities to open a provider-based emergency department on the BRMC campus.  PCH is working through the details and regulations to open this department as soon as possible, along with the necessary ancillary services to support its function, including lab and x-ray. The associated physician practices will continue to operate through BRMC.

The closure will impact 340 employees at BRMC. PCH has open positions in different areas of the hospital and encourages displaced workers to apply for positions for which they are qualified. The BRMC Human Resources Department will assist all employees with application for unemployment benefits and job placement in other markets.

PCH Board President Rusty Sarver said, “I am deeply saddened by this announcement and I regret that this is the outcome of the acquisition. BRMC has been a pillar of the community for nearly 50 years. It provided quality healthcare and stable employment for thousands over the decades. Many of the current dedicated employees have been with the hospital for 20, 30, and 40 years. Regrettably, with the volatility of today’s healthcare environment, our decreasing population, and reductions in federal funding and reimbursements from government and commercial insurers, there are no other viable options.”

PCH will continue to provide inpatient and emergency services to Mercer County and the surrounding areas. BRMC leadership will ensure Regional Command and all EMS personnel throughout the county are notified of any changes in the status of the BRMC emergency department. As a trauma center, PCH’s Emergency Department has the personnel and capacity to accommodate the additional workload that could be a result of these changes.

Current and past BRMC patients may continue to access their medical records and online bill pay through BRMC’s website. The BRMC Patient Portal and online bill pay will remain functional for the next six months. After six months, they will remain functional on PCH’s website.

PCH CEO Jeffrey E. Lilley stated, “Rural hospitals throughout the United States have struggled in recent years to remain open. It was our hope to change that outcome for BRMC. In the end, the board had to take steps to mitigate the losses and ensure the viability of healthcare in our region.”

The Board of Directors and administration desire to keep the emergency department with lab and x-ray support operational at BRMC and are working with appropriate agencies in this effort. As the initiative for emergency services progresses, the community will be kept informed.

Bluefield Mayor Ron Martin said, “We are working closely with PCH leadership as they move forward to develop plans for the future of BRMC. Rural hospitals struggle under the weight of reimbursement for services that simply do not cover the cost of care. Even before COVID-19, hospitals like BRMC operated on extremely thin margins, and struggled to stay afloat. Elective medical procedures were a key source of revenue, but those were halted under COVID-19 at both PCH and BRMC, putting the hospitals in an extremely difficult financial position. While we are saddened by this decision and by the loss of BRMC as a full-service hospital, we are committed to working with PCH leadership and our state and federal elected officials to find a productive use for that facility to serve the health care needs of our region.””