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St. Mary’s Medical Center to acquire HIMG

HUNTINGTON — St. Mary’s Medical Center has reached an agreement to purchase the assets of Huntington Internal Medicine Group, the area’s largest physician group practice, the two entities announced Tuesday.

The agreement has been approved by the board of directors of both organizations, and later this week, St. Mary’s plans to submit an application to the state Health Care Authority for a certificate of need. If it receives the HCA’s approval, the deal can be completed in September.

“We acknowledge that an acquisition during the COVID pandemic is unexpected,” Mike Mullins, president and CEO of Mountain Health Network, said in the release. “While this is a difficult economic time, both boards recognize the acquisition is an important investment for our region’s future and are committed to bringing it to fruition. When complete, HIMG will join SMMC, CHH and Marshall Health as we build an information technology platform to better serve all patients.”

St. Mary’s will maintain the HIMG name and HIMG physicians will continue to provide services at their current location on U.S. 60 in Huntington.

Todd Campbell, president of St. Mary’s Medical Center, says the planned acquisition means employees of HIMG will be a part of a larger, regional health system, while continuing to work in their current roles.

“If there are opportunities for career advancement at St. Mary’s, they can certainly express their interest,” Campbell said.

Campbell added that there are no plans for workforce reductions.

“The intent is to focus on making HIMG stronger, continue developing our clinically integrated network and growing our community partnership,” he said.

“For almost 50 years, HIMG has provided world-class medical services for the Tri-State,” Mark Morgan, chief executive officer of HIMG, said. “In January 2018, HIMG was a founding partner with Marshall Health and Cabell Huntington Hospital to launch the MHC Accountable Care Organization. Through this collaboration we have formed an innovative, highly coordinated, quality-driven approach in the Medicare Shared Savings Program. This partnership has demonstrated the value of working as a team to successfully coordinate and cooperate to benefit patient care.”

Dr. Daniel Snavely, chairman of the HIMG board of directors, said he served on the medical staffs at both SMMC and Cabell Huntington Hospital.

“Our founders helped to build the outstanding medical care that the Huntington area offers today,” he said. “We have been an integral part of helping Huntington grow as a health care destination and look forward to formally joining St. Mary’s and Mountain Health to provide an even higher level of technology, access and quality medical services to the community.”

HIMG was founded in 1971 and now consists of more than 60 physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. St. Mary’s Medical Center is an acute care hospital with 393 licensed beds.

In addition to St. Mary’s, Mountain Health Network Inc. includes Cabell Huntington Hospital, a 303-bed teaching hospital for Marshall University Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy and Nursing, and a management agreement with Pleasant Valley Hospital, a 201-bed facility with 101 licensed acute beds and 100 long-term care beds.

In 2018, St. Mary’s Medical Center and Cabell Huntington Hospital merged to form Mountain Health Network. That happened after the Pallottine Missionary Sisters, the group that founded and ran St. Mary’s since 1924, announced in 2014 that the hospital was in financial trouble and they had to sell.

With support from Marshall University, its Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and lawmakers in Charleston, and opposition from Steel of West Virginia and the Federal Trade Commission, the two hospitals battled lawsuits and bureaucratic process to become one.

Former NFL player returns to host shoe distribution

HUNTINGTON — Heavy rain and chilly winds didn’t stop former Pittsburgh Steelers center Doug Legursky from handing out 403 pairs of shoes Tuesday.

Legursky, having also played for Marshall University during his college career, returned to Huntington for an impromptu event with United Way of the River Cities.

Despite the differences in the city brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Legursky was happy to be back home.

“Getting to come back here was cool,” said Legursky. “The hustle and bustle isn’t around like it used to be, because the immediate reaction for a lot of people is to hunker down and stay inside. There’s another part in us that wants to reach out and help others, though.”

The event itself was described as being a spur-of-the-moment decision after Megan Legursky, Doug’s wife and CEO of United Way of Southern West Virginia, received a donation of 4,000 pairs of shoes from GREATS, a New York-based shoe company. Though the majority of these shoes were sent to shoe closets scattered around the state, the idea was brought forward to donate a chunk of them to various local organizations as well.

“This wasn’t planned at all in terms of the long term,” said Bill Rosenberger, director of Resource Development at United Way of the River Cities. “We got a contact last Wednesday asking about who might need shoes, and after we sent some calls, enough agencies responded for us to move forward. We jotted a date down on Friday, and here we are half a week later.”

Rosenberger was present Tuesday alongside Doug Legursky, his son, Trip Legursky, his brother-in-law, Ryan Kissinger, and a handful of other United Way workers. The event began 11 minutes ahead of schedule when a van carrying workers from Harmony House, a multipurpose day shelter, pulled into the Enterprise Truck Rental facility at 100 3rd Ave. West.

Legursky quickly went to work, carrying 25 pairs of shoes to the car before pausing for a photo alongside Harmony House workers. It was a process he would repeat several times throughout the next hour-and-a-half for 11 other agencies and organizations.

“We’re incredibly grateful for this opportunity to help improve the lives of those that come to us,” said Marissa Clark, assistant director of Harmony House. “These shoes can make a drastic difference. We have people living out here in the cold and rain, in ruined houses or worse. If you don’t have adequate footwear, it can lead to a miserable day at best and severe health problems at worst.”

The significance of shoes for those in need was echoed by Legursky.

“You don’t realize how valuable a pair of shoes is, especially if you’re not in the situations these people face,” he said. “A guy wearing a nice pair of shoes to an interview instead of old, muddy work boots can change his entire life.”

The exact amount of shoes each organization received varied from case to case, dependent upon how severe the need. The loads themselves ranged anywhere from 25 pairs to upward of 60.

The event was relaxed and had an easy pace, with smiles and laughter between workers. Legursky was spotted joking with staff or playing with his son between the tall pallets of shoe boxes.

“I think things are going to start improving,” said Legursky. “People need help, and as long as we continue to do stuff like this and get them that help, I think we’re going to be just fine.”

More information on United Way of Southern West Virginia and the programs they host can be found at their website, https://unitedwayswv.org. Information about United Way of the River Cities can be found at http://www.unitedwayrivercities.org/.

Employers scramble to address mental health epidemic

As the global death toll from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic climbs, employers are scrambling to address the explosive rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and potential suicides that have emerged along with it. Like the virus itself, this secondary epidemic is expected to affect far more people than the existing health care system can address, leaving employers to pick up the slack.

The numbers are daunting. Vida Health, a digital network of therapists and clinicians that works with companies like Cisco, Visa, PayPal and Boeing, has seen 15% to 20% week-on-week increases in mental health and stress-related appointments since mid-March, and a 30% to 50% boost in new client interest. “Everyone is looking for virtual mental health care right now,” Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Tilenius said. “We’re just hiring as fast as we can.”

Just under one-fifth of a company’s employees typically have a mental health disorder, as evidenced on health insurance claims, Tilenius said. In recent weeks, that number has risen to between 60% and 70%. “Everybody’s got some level of anxiety with this pandemic,” she said.

Elke Van Hoof, a psychologist who specializes in stress and burnout, says companies need to provide a tight web of tools and support for employees during the course of the regular workday. Examples include webinars on topics like pandemic resilience and work-life balance. Organizations should also have staffers trained on both early signs of psychological struggle and how to intervene.

Most larger companies in Europe already have this infrastructure in place due to European Union occupational safety legislation. Employers are obliged to ensure mental and social well-being, regularly evaluate it, and address lagging areas while maintaining employee privacy — which is most easily accomplished through a well-being department. Specific practices vary country by country, but many companies have a chief well-being officer or chief happiness officer specifically focused on these tasks.

“It’s a very good and efficient system to reduce long-term absence and dropout,” Van Hoof said.

Axa Belgium, a Paris-based insurance company, has beefed up existing infrastructure. The company already employed a well-being team of eight and trains managers how to converse with employees about mental health, allowing them to intervene before problems arise.

“People that already had difficulties before the pandemic — now life becomes even more difficult because it’s an extra layer of problems,” said Axa chief happiness officer Elke Aelbrecht, who works out of the company’s Brussels office. The company created digital tool kits for both employees and managers on relevant topics like stress, fear, insecurity and parenting.

U.S. employers usually don’t take such a direct approach. Mental health triage often falls to HR departments, and chief well-being officers are few and far between. Most companies instead offer workers access to treatment through insurance benefits and employee assistance programs (EAP), while also pushing subscriptions to meditation and stress relief platforms.

Such perks are popular. Intuit, which is transitioning to remote work, says its 9,400 employees have completed 42,661 stress relief and well-being sessions on the platform Whil in the past five weeks — nearly the same number of sessions logged in the two years prior. The company is providing 10 extra days of paid time off, plus another 20 days of family support time employees can use in small chunks, like an afternoon off for homeschooling.

While extra time off will help employees manage stress, vacation alone does not actually lower stress unless it is part of a coordinated effort to address the factors causing it, such as job uncertainty or financial strains, Van Hoof said.

The stigma around mental health remains endemic in America. Employees largely remain quiet about personal challenges, and depression alone costs employers over $100 billion per year, mostly in missed work and low productivity. While many companies have expanded EAP programs, only a fraction of eligible workers take advantage of them.

“We have a long way to go to eliminate stigma,” said Elyse Cohen, senior director of health, wellness and food programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “The pandemic has catapulted business leaders into leaning into an issue that they may have shied away from.”

Van Hoof says normalizing the fact that anyone can suffer is key to removing such stigma. Rather than labeling a worker as, say, depressed or sleep disordered, she emphasizes the underlying and often relatable issues: cognitive fatigue or an inability to re-energize. “It should be normalized so that people are open about it and can proactively seek help as soon as possible,” she said.

The coronavirus pandemic is a difficult situation for everyone, not just those with preexisting mental health conditions. Some are struggling with fear or loneliness, while others are melting down while working at home with children. Companies that provide better care for workers at this time will likely emerge stronger for it.

“This is a defining moment for the reputation of companies,” says Scott Beth, Intuit’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “Five years from now, people will remember how their companies treated them during the most profound shock of our work lifetimes, and it will really speak to our brands and our reputations for a very, very long time.”

Justice: Remain cautious or virus will ‘bite us’

CHARLESTON — With a big round of reopenings beginning Thursday and a big holiday weekend to follow, Gov. Jim Justice on Tuesday continued to implore West Virginians to take the threat of the coronavirus seriously.

“If you start believing things as crazy as we didn’t land on the moon, that’s when it bites ya,” Justice said, addressing those who may believe the pandemic response has been overblown or even a conspiracy of some kind.

Justice said people should look to the response by President Donald Trump and what has happened elsewhere to realize the threat has been and is still real.

“Have you ever seen in your lifetime … bodies being hauled in trucks as fast as they were in New York?” Justice said. “Have you ever in your life — even as we celebrate (the state’s numbers) today, our nation is losing an equivalency of five airliners of people a day. You have to continue to be worried and cautious.”

When asked what advice he had for families this Memorial Day holiday, he reiterated the importance of taking precautions.

“If you believe summer is here and we can do everything and we can totally ignore this situation, it will bite you. It will bite all of us,” Justice said.

Twelve new positive cases were reported by the state Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,514, and there were 816 laboratory results received. The percentage of positive cases cumulatively is 1.93% as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. The total fatalities remained at 68.

More counties have begun reporting recovered cases. In Cabell County, 46 of the county’s 55 reported cases have recovered, according to the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. The Wayne County Health Department reported 84 of the 96 cases have recovered. Statewide, 62.7% of cases have recovered.

Total confirmed cases by county are: Barbour (seven), Berkeley (223), Boone (nine), Braxton (two), Brooke (three), Cabell (55), Calhoun (two), Clay (two), Fayette (38), Gilmer (eight), Grant (six), Greenbrier (nine), Hampshire (12), Hancock (12), Hardy (32), Harrison (36), Jackson (135), Jefferson (102), Kanawha (203), Lewis (five), Lincoln (five), Logan (15), Marion (48), Marshall (25), Mason (15), McDowell (six), Mercer (13), Mineral (29), Mingo (three), Monongalia (116), Monroe (six), Morgan (17), Nicholas (nine), Ohio (37), Pendleton (five), Pleasants (two), Pocahontas (eight), Preston (15), Putnam (29), Raleigh (13), Randolph (eight), Ritchie (one), Roane (nine), Summers (one), Taylor (eight), Tucker (four), Tyler (three), Upshur (six), Wayne (96), Wetzel (seven), Wirt (four), Wood (47) and Wyoming (three).

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the stay-at-home order was ending and the state was transitioning to a new advisory that “strongly recommends” versus “orders.”

The new advisory incorporates six feet of social distancing; a limit of 10 people for mass gatherings; frequent hand-washing; and other sanitizing efforts. It incorporates all of the business orders about social distancing and sanitation, including employees wearing masks, as well as efforts to protect employees and efforts to protect the public.

It strongly recommends high-risk Ohioans stay home as much as possible, and recommends all others stay home as much as possible to reduce the spread of the virus.

The state’s travel restrictions have also been lifted, though unnecessary travel within or outside of the state is still discouraged.

“The coronavirus is not gone. It is real. And it is deadly,” DeWine said. “This new phase that we are now in is about learning to live with this virus. It is with us — it will remain with us — and we must do all we can to contain it and keep it from killing our fellow citizens.”

COVID-19 is becoming one of the leading causes of death in Ohio, DeWine said. He said it is up to individual Ohioans to protect each other.

There were 498 new positive cases reported in Ohio on Tuesday, bringing the total to 28,952, and 63 new deaths, for a total of 1,750.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that a partnership with Walmart to perform COVID-19 testing was expanding, including to stores in Ashland and Pikeville. Register online at doineedacovid19test.com.

Dr. Stephen Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, during Beshear’s press briefing Tuesday provided tips for gathering for Memorial Day. Gatherings should be no larger than a group of 10; continue physical distancing; wear a face mask; don’t share food, drinks or utensils; wash hands often; and don’t touch your face.

There were 164 new positive cases reported in Kentucky on Tuesday, bringing the total to 8,069, and 20 new deaths, for a total of 366.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,504,830 total cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of Tuesday. There have been 90,340 deaths related to the virus.

The Associated Press reports that for most people, the novel coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.