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Charleston Hospital Backs Plan for Statewide Medical Command Center

CHARLESTON, W.V. -- Charleston Area Medical Center leaders are supporting a plan to establish a statewide medical command center in Flatwoods, where dispatchers would route emergency vehicles and helicopters to hospitals.

The new command center would replace existing centers in Charleston, Beckley, Huntington, Parkersburg and Morgantown. CAMC houses a 14-employee medical command center at General Hospital.

The dispatchers field calls from emergency medical personnel who need to know where to take victims of accidents, heart attacks and other sudden illnesses.

"There should be a centralized medical command center, and it should be funded by the state," said Bob Whitler, vice president of government and community relations at CAMC. "It will improve [emergency] health care."

The individual command centers also have become a financial drain on the hospitals that house them, hospital executives say.

Last year, state lawmakers distributed $100,000 for state emergency officials to start planning a statewide medical command center. The center would be located at Braxton County's 911 center, Whitler said.

Hospitals would share the costs of the dispatch center with the state for two years before the state would exclusively fund the facility, Whitler said.

Whitler listed the command center as one of CAMC's top priorities for this year's legislative session. CAMC leaders unveiled their legislative proposals -- all involve requests for increased state funding -- at a Wednesday morning Board of Trustees meeting in Charleston.

Other priorities:

-CAMC wants the state Medicaid office to increase funding by $1.5 million the amount it reimburses hospitals for "safety net" services, such as trauma, pediatric and newborn intensive care.

CAMC lost $32 million providing the specialized critical-care services last year.

"We are the safety-net hospital for this whole part of the state, but it comes at a huge cost," Whitler said.

-CAMC leaders are urging state lawmakers and Medicaid officials to support the city of Charleston's "home rule" plan, which would allow the city to tax Charleston hospitals and transfer the funds to the state Medicaid office. The money would be used to reimburse hospitals for care provided to Medicaid patients. The federal government is expected to triple the revenues with matching funds.

-CAMC also wants lawmakers to increase funding for West Virginia University's graduate medical education programs by up to $1 million. CAMC spends about $5.5 million a year to subsidize WVU's medical school program in Charleston.

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