New county insurance plan leaves PMH in the lurch

Marlinton, W.Va. – During its meeting Tuesday evening, the Pocahontas County Commission learned that a new insurance deal has created a major lapse in coverage for Pocahontas Memorial Hospital.

The commission approved a $128,000 insurance contract with the West Virginia County Risk Pool on June 28 and made a $30,000 payment on the new policy.

During Tuesday’s meeting, PMH chief executive officer Barbara Lay told the commission that Risk Pool representative Steve Rawlings informed her on Monday that hospital equipment and three ambulances were not covered under the new policy. Rawlings, who participated via speakerphone, said the vehicles and equipment are owned and controlled by the hospital board, therefore, not covered under the county policy.

Lay tells Rawlings that the county commission owns the entire hospital, including vehicles and equipment.

“The hospital is a component of the county commission,” she said. “We’re not a separate corporation. We’re not a holding company. We don’t have assets that we don’t believe belong to anyone other than the county.”

Rawlings responded that PMH independently hires and fires employees; purchases equipment; borrows money; enters into contracts and carries its own general liability and public official insurance. The Risk Pool executive tells the commission the hospital is a separate entity.

“The hospital – they’re a separate entity,” he said. “If they weren’t a separate entity, they wouldn’t have their own general liability coverage, public officials, crimes, that they’ve had, as Barbara told me, for 10 years.”

Commissioner Martin Saffer says legal help is needed to determine the county’s relationship with PMH.

“We need the legal opinion of a contracted law firm to come down here and analyze this relationship and determine what is the legal relationship of the Pocahontas County Commission, the building commission, the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, so that we know what in the world we’re talking about.”

Lay says the hospital was unaware, until Monday, that the commission had changed insurance providers.

“It’s really sad that this is July the 17th and we just found out on the 16th that the county went with a new insurance,” she said. “Let’s learn from this, going forward, that we need to know. Quite frankly, I’m concerned that the whole hospital’s at risk.”

Commissioner David Fleming, a member of the PMH board of directors, asks Rawlings if the Risk Pool can cover the hospital equipment and Rawlings responds.
“Is there a scenario under which the West Virginia Risk Pool would cover the contents and the equipment?” Fleming asked.

“You have to have those items transferred to you, wherein the hospital board grants you ownership of those items and, what’s very vital about that to understand is that – once that happens, they lose all control over that equipment,” Rawlings responded.

Rawlings said the hospital building itself was covered under the Risk Pool policy.
The commission formerly insured with Nationwide Insurance through the State Board of Risk and Insurance Management, or BRIM. The commission contacted Freda Jackson, who came to the meeting and told the commission the BRIM policy, which expired in June, covered the hospital equipment and vehicles. Jackson said the commission was still within a 30-day grace period, during which the BRIM policy could be renewed by paying the premium.

The commission agreed to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to decide how to insure the hospital equipment and ambulances. Saffer said he would consult Charleston legal firm Steptoe and Johnson to get advice on the commission’s legal relationship with the hospital.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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