- Associated Press - Friday, September 11, 2020

A cash-strapped West Virginia hospital that just settled to pay millions in a whistleblower lawsuit will join the West Virginia University Health System, both groups announced on Friday.

The nonprofit Wheeling Hospital, located in northwestern West Virginia and serving Upper Ohio Valley communities, had been managed by the 12-hospital WVU Health System for over a year and was searching for a partner to save its future. Its CEO had said in July that the hospital has suffered a loss of more than $18 million this fiscal year.

A new signed letter of intent calls for a 50-year lease agreement between WVU Health Systems and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which owns the 223-bed hospital founded in 1850.

The hospital now fully joins a 20,000-employee network that has clinics and hospitals across West Virginia, southwestern Pennsylvania, western Maryland and Ohio.

“As a full member of our health system, Wheeling Hospital will remain true to its mission, traditions, Catholic identity, and practice of medicine, while benefiting from being part of a larger, integrated network,” Albert Wright, Jr., president and chief executive officer of WVU Health System, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced Wheeling Hospital agreed to pay the federal government $50 million to resolve claims it improperly issued payments and kickbacks to physicians under the direction of management.

The settlement stems from a 2017 whistleblower complaint by Louis Longo, a former hospital executive vice president. Prosecutors alleged the illegal payments occurred from 2007 to 2020 under previous managers R&V Associates Ltd. and a now-retired chief executive officer.

“I believe that this strengthened partnership between the Diocese and the WVU Health System will ensure the long-term viability of Wheeling Hospital and enable it to provide even better care to the sick and injured who come through its doors,” said the Most Rev. Mark Brennan, bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

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