WEIRTON - A recently granted exemption means Weirton Medical Center will no longer need to secure a Certificate of Need to open offices in the Hancock County section of Weirton, Del. Ron Jones, D-Hancock, said.
Although it's in Weirton, the hospital is on the Brooke County side, less than a mile from the Pennsylvania border and minutes from Ohio. Because of that, any offices or services it hoped to offer on the Hancock County side of the city, or in Washington County, Pa., required a certificate.
Under the new rules, WMC will be able to offer specific services or offices without the certificate provided they're within the 26062 ZIP code, within a half-mile of the Brooke County line or in bordering states within a mile of the state line.
"It allows us to set up our services, our doctor services, throughout the major city where our hospital is (located)," said J.J. Bernabei, a WMC board member. "Before, without doing that long CON process, we were limited just to our location here, and convenience in health care is paramount - people don't want to take off work, convenience and accessibility in health care is (critical).You have to be able to compete in that way, to bring health services to the people. This is one barrier that's been torn down."
The legislation was sponsored in the House by Jones, and Dels. Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, and Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock; and in the Senate by Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg; Larry Edgell, D-New Martinsville, and Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Wheeling.
Jones said the old system had put WMC at a distinct disadvantage.
"Weirton Medical Center has to be able to open new offices for its physicians to remain competitive," Jones said, pointing out that under the old system, "The law not only (required) them to file a CON, but actually (allowed) out-of-state competitors to object to WMC expanding health care for our residents, which is just unbelievable. Now our hospital will be able to remain competitive with hospitals and physicians in Ohio and Pennsylvania," Jones said.
Bernabei said Weirton Medical Center is the only hospital that is affected by the change.
"It really doesn't put anyone else at an advantage or disadvantage, it just allows us to open (facilities) in the same city," he said.
Jones said the bill is going to help protect WMC from out-of-state competition.
"I would bet that most residents of Brooke and Hancock counties don't realize that when they go just across the border to visit a doctor or have basic lab or X-rays, that greatly impacts our local hospital and jobs here in Weirton," he said.
During the session, Jones also worked on the education reform bill, which he called one of the most significant accomplishments of the legislative session. Among other things, it allows school principals and faculty senate members to participate in teacher hiring, and their recommendations will receive double weight among 11 factors used, including seniority.
"I am pleased that we were able to ensure that the school calendar will include 180 instructional days within 48 weeks and may include year-round school," Jones said. "In addition, development of the county calendar must included at least two public meetings."
The bill provides teachers with specialized training to increase the number of third-graders who end the year reading at grade level. It also ensures that full-day pre-kindergarten programs will be available statewide to all 4 year olds.
Other important pieces of legislation passed during the last session include an update to the state's Amber Alert law to make it easier to report a missing child; optional maternity and pediatric benefits to dependent mothers as well as changes that will make nutritious breakfasts and lunches available to every schoolchild in West Virginia.
"My focus in the state Legislature is to make our economy better," he said. "I want to make sure our citizens can stay in the area and make a decent living."
Jones served as vice chair of the Committee on Pensions and Retirement and also served on house committees on government organization, natural resources, political subidivision-Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)