Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Princeton Times

December 11, 2009

Strategic planning or sales talk?

BPRINCETON — A lengthy closed-door executive session and a visit from a West Virginia United Health Systems leader reignited concerns this week that Princeton Community Hospital’s Board of Directors could be considering a sale.

Officially, the private meeting that lasted more than two hours and included several members of the PCH medical staff, a representative of West Virginia University-affiliated hospitals and others was a strategic planning session designed to examine challenges and opportunities ahead for the facilities and business.

Outside the session, however, worries resurfaced that the gathering was the first step toward turning the community hospital into a corporate entity.

“These are people’s lives we’re talking about. This is their community,” Dr. Roweena Chambers said, referring to the patients served at PCH, the employees who have made their careers there and the extended families the hospital environment has built. “You can’t just sell that.”

The concerns stretch back to the spring, when the PCH board members voted down a motion to begin investigating collaboration between PCH and LifePoint Hospitals, a company that owns and operates facilities throughout the Southeast and Midwest. While opponents of the motion called it a plan for sale, PCH officials and board members who supported the collaboration said they were seeking out the best future for the hospital and doing “due diligence” for the facility facing a difficult economy, shrinking government reimbursements and the uncertainty of health care reform.

Tuesday’s meeting sparked interest that far exceeded a typical board session when word leaked that a representative of West Virginia United Health Systems, an entity affiliated with West Virginia University, and possibly a LifePoint delegate were in town for a meeting with the PCH board and some physicians who practice at the hospital.

Unconfirmed reports quickly made rounds throughout the hospital that the newest proposal recommended the merger of PCH and Bluefield Regional Medical Center in a team that also included LifePoint and a WVU organization.

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