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WVU Medicine’s partnership with DHS is ending

Bell

ELKINS — Davis Health System Foundation executive director Mike Bell announced Tuesday DHS is ending its partnership with WVU Hospitals.

Bell made the announcement during an Elkins-Randolph County Chamber function at Halliehurst Mansion on the campus of Davis & Elkins College.

“One of the questions going around the community right now is our relationship with WVU Medicine,” Bell said. “About three to four years ago we entered a partnership with WVU. For numerous reasons it is ending this week, with Aug. 8 being the last day of that relationship.”

Davis Health System launched its clinical affiliation with WVU Hospitals in May 2019. The partnership was launched to help advance specialty care, including neurology, pulmonology and urology at the hospital. The clinical affiliation was put in place to strengthen DHS’s telemedicine network and provide immediate access to WVU Medicine specialists through cutting-edge video technology.

Tracy Fath, vice president of marketing and development at Davis Health System, told The Inter-Mountain Tuesday that WVU Medicine decided on the split, not Davis Health System. She said circumstances having to do with the hospital’s medical record system was the reasoning behind WVU’s decision.

“Our current electronic medical record system is due to be updated and we decided that we were going to go with a different vendor this time,” Fath said. “These EMR platforms are extremely expensive and we were looking at two of the bigger systems on the market. One is called Epic and the other is Cerner, and as far as their capabilities are concerned, they are very similar. But there ended up being a big difference in the price.”

Fath said the difference in price between the two systems was in the millions.

“It was clearly based on the cost difference that we decided to go with the one we did,” she said. “We just could not afford the Epic system so we signed on to go with Cerner. Then shortly after we did, we got a letter from WVU Health Systems saying that they were ending the clinical affiliation based on the grounds of not having an integrated medical records system.

“It was a substantial difference of millions of dollars and our administration and board looked at the two systems and felt there was only one way to go,” she noted. “It’s not that big of a difference to big hospitals because they have more resources, but for us, that was a huge difference.

“So we made the decision to go with Cerner, which will still speak to doctors at WVU or anywhere else in the state, it may just take an extra click. When we made that decision, WVU was frustrated that we did not go with their system that they had offered to us.”

WVU Medicine currently uses Epic as its EMR and was going to allow DHS to tap into and share the system, Fath said.

“WVU has Epic and we talked to WVU about us just tagging on to their Epic system,” she said. “We got the two quotes back and Cerner gave us their quote and WVU Medicine gave us the Epic quote because they were going to let us tap into their system. It all came down to the big difference in costs.”

Fath said DHS spoke to WVU Medicine about helping pay for, or reducing the costs of the Epic system, but said they were not willing to lend a hand toward the purchase.

“They weren’t interested, we went back to them and asked if they would like to make another proposal to help us out with the price and they were not interested,” Fath said. “We went back to them and told them we would consider canceling our contract with Cerner if they could give us a new price that was more acceptable to our administration and the board — they said no.”

Angela Jones, WVU Medicine’s corporate director of media relations and public affairs, told The Inter-Mountain by email Tuesday that officials had no comment on the ending of the partnership with DHS.

Fath said that, after acknowledging the split was going to happen, DHS began recruiting heavily for its hospitalists program and its emergency medicine program, because those are the two programs that WVU helped staff at the hospital.

“We were able to secure the hospitalists pretty quickly and then we also tried to keep some of the emergency department physicians here at DMC,” she said. “A handful of them decided to go and stay with WVU versus staying here with us. But we have some emergency department physicians coming, so we are going to be fine in that department.”

Fath said Dr. Jesus Lemus, who has been a locum doctor at Davis Medical Center, has been named director of the Emergency Department. He worked at developing the emergency department at the Cleveland Clinic and other hospitals across the country and internationally, she said. A locum doctor temporarily fulfills the duties of another doctor.

“Dr. Lemus said he welcomed the challenge and has been working very hard to get a number of new physicians signed on to work in the emergency department,” Fath said. “Our concern was that we didn’t want any lapse in care and with the physicians he has been able to recruit, we are in good shape. He has brought in doctors who will be a good fit for this community and ones who want to be here.”

The same team of hospitalists that have been with DMC throughout the clinical affiliation with WVU Medicine will remain intact, Fath said. Those include Garrett Butler, MD, Phil Chua, DO, Dave Davis, MD, James Gainer, MD, Joel Hummer, MD, and Rebecca Wilkins, FNP-C.

The Cancer Care Center in Elkins will not be affected by the split, although WVU requested that DHS buy out the contract for the center, particular its linear accelerator, which is used for radiation treatment, Fath said. The Cancer Center was owned by Davis Medical Center before the partnership with WVU began in 2019.

“One of the biggest challenges has to do with the doctors at the Cancer Center,” Fath said. “In fact, WVU tried, while we had the joint venture going, to recruit doctors to replace our doctors at the Cancer Center when they were ready to retire. But they didn’t have any success in recruiting. So that remains a challenge, although we have had some really good interviews for new doctors and we have site visits scheduled.”

Fath said that DMC can tap into the doctors who have spent time at the hospital as locum doctors to help at the Cancer Center until the new doctors are hired.

Fath also stated that the hospital’s relationship with the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute in Elkins will remain the same, and will not be affected by the end of the clinical affiliation.

“Their office is located within Davis Medical Center and that office will stay there,” Fath said. “Dr. (Abbas) Ali has been such a benefit to the local population and that relationship will stay intact.

“Davis Medical Center is a community hospital and we understand the role we have,” Fath said. “Even though we are larger than some of the other community hospitals in the state, we are still community driven and we will continue to provide the best care to our patients.”

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