ELKINS – Davis Health System Foundation Executive Director Mike Bell announced Tuesday that DHS will end its partnership with WVU hospitals.
Bell made the announcement during a function of the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber at Halliehurst Mansion on the campus of Davis & Elkins College.
“One of the questions circulating in the community right now is our relationship with WVU Medicine,” Bell said. “About three or four years ago we partnered with WVU. For numerous reasons, it will end this week, with August 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 in the hospital. The clinical affiliation was implemented to strengthen the DHS telemedicine network and provide immediate access to WVU medical specialists through state-of-the-art video technology.
Tracy Fath, vice president of marketing and development for Davis Health System, told The Inter-Mountain on Tuesday that WVU Medicine decided on the split, not Davis Health System. She said circumstances involving the hospital’s medical records system were the reasoning behind WVU’s decision.
“Our current electronic medical record system needs to be updated and we decided we were going to go to a different provider this time,” Fat said. “These EMR platforms are extremely expensive and we were looking at two of the largest systems on the market. One is called Epic and the other is Cerner, and in terms of their capabilities, they are very similar. But there ended up being a big difference in price.”
Fath said the price difference between the two systems was in the millions.
“Clearly it was based on the cost difference that we decided to go with the one we did.” she said. “We just couldn’t afford the Epic system, so we signed to go with Cerner. Then shortly after we did, we received a letter from WVU Health Systems saying they were terminating the clinic affiliation for not having an integrated medical record system.
“It was a substantial difference of millions of dollars and our management and board looked at the two systems and felt there was only one way forward,” she noticed. “It is not a big difference with the big hospitals because they have more resources, but for us it was a big difference.
“So we made the decision to go with Cerner, who will still talk to doctors at WVU or anywhere else in the state, it can only take one extra click. When we made that decision, WVU was frustrated that we didn’t accept the system they had offered us.”
WVU Medicine currently uses Epic as its EMR and was going to allow DHS to access and share the system, Fath said.
“WVU has Epic and we talked to WVU about us just tagging their Epic system.” she said. “We retrieved the two quotes and Cerner gave us their quote and WVU Medicine gave us Epic’s quote because they were going to let us access their system. It all came down to the huge cost difference.”
Fath said DHS talked to WVU Medicine about helping pay for or lower the costs of the Epic system, but said they weren’t willing to help with the purchase.
“They weren’t interested, we asked them again if they would like to make another proposal to help us with the price and they weren’t interested.” Fat said. “We went back to them and told them that we would consider canceling our contract with Cerner if they could give us a new price that would be more acceptable to our management and the board; They said no.”
Angela Jones, corporate director of media relations and public affairs for WVU Medicine, told The Inter-Mountain via email Tuesday that officials had no comment on ending the partnership with DHS.
Fath said that, after recognizing that the split was going to happen, DHS began recruiting heavily for its hospitalist program and its emergency medicine program, because those are the two programs where WVU helped hospital staff. .
“We were able to secure the hospitalists pretty quickly and then we tried to keep some of the emergency department doctors here at DMC as well,” she said. “A handful of them decided to leave and stay with WVU instead of staying here with us. But we do have some doctors from the emergency department coming in, so we’re going to be fine in that department.”
Fath said Dr. Jesus Lemus, who has been a substitute physician at Davis Medical Center, has been named director of the Emergency Department. He worked on developing the emergency department at the Cleveland Clinic and other hospitals across the country and internationally, he said. A substitute physician temporarily performs the duties of another physician.
“Dr. Lemus said he appreciated the challenge and has been working very hard to get several new doctors to sign up to work in the emergency department.” Fat said. “Our concern was that we didn’t want any failures in care and with the doctors that he’s been able to recruit, we’re in good shape. It has brought doctors who will fit well into this community and who want to be here.”
The same team of hospitalists that has been with DMC throughout WVU Medicine’s clinical affiliation will remain intact, Fath said. They include Garrett Butler, MD, Phil Chua, DO, Dave Davis, MD, James Gainer, MD, Joel Hummer, MD, and Rebecca Wilkins, FNP-C.
The Elkins Cancer Care Center will not be affected by the split, although WVU has requested that DHS purchase the center’s contract, particularly its linear accelerator, which is used for radiation treatment, Fath said. The Cancer Center was owned by the 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,” Fat 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 had no success in recruiting. That’s still a challenge, although we’ve had some really good interviews for new doctors and have visits scheduled.”
Fath said DMC can draw on doctors who have spent time at the hospital as substitute doctors to help out at the Cancer Center until 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.
“His office is located inside Davis Medical Center and that office will remain there,” Fat said. “Dr. (Abbas) Ali has been a great benefit to the local population and that relationship will remain intact.
“Davis Medical Center is a community hospital and we understand the role we have,” Fat said. “Although we are larger than some of the other community hospitals in the state, we are still community-driven and will continue to provide the best care for our patients.”