Published On: Wed, Dec 18th, 2013

Patients oppose plan to close Hillsboro clinic

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Hillsboro area residents are fighting a plan by the Northern Greenbrier Health Care (NGHC) to close a local health clinic and relocate its doctors to Williamsburg. But NGHC Chief Executive Officer Greg Curry said it’s all about the bottom line.

“It was a decision based on financial economics,” said Curry. “The clinic was not profitable. It was a board decision and a federal government decision. We receive federal grant funding from the federal government, and we don’t receive any grant funding for the Hillsboro operation. We receive grant funding for the Williamsburg operation. As a result of the Hillsboro operation losing money, the Williamsburg operation was subsidizing Hillsboro, and the federal government said you can no longer continue to take the losses at Hillsboro, on the back of the Williamsburg clinic.”

Popular Hillsboro husband and wife doctors, Dr. Pat Browning and Dr. William Browning, work for NGHC and will move to Williamsburg with the clinic – if the plan goes through. Sandy Willhite, of Hillsboro, is leading the charge to keep the clinic – and the Brownings – in Hillsboro.

“I’m outraged that folks from Greenbrier County are going to have the benefit of forcing the Brownings to shut down the clinic they built and take their medical practice over to the Williamsburg office, leaving the patients in our county without a local primary care physician by doing so,” Willhite wrote in an email. “This is going to have a negative impact on our community. Residents have little choice for a physician here in Pocahontas County without having to drive long distance, and now this group of people are leaving us with one less choice while gaining from our loss.”

Curry said the Brownings had no input in the board decision.

“They’re going to be working at the Williamsburg location,” he said. “They did not have input into the decision that the board of directors made. After it was made, we asked them if they would be willing to work in Williamsburg, and they said, ‘yes.’”

Since the Brownings are under contract to NGHC, it’s unclear whether they really had a choice.

“If they had just said, ‘no,’ of course, we would have said, ‘there’s a contract,’ and we would have had to work that out, one way or the other,” said Curry.

Willhite’s petition condemns the NGHC board decision.

“It’s unconscionable that you’re closing one of the only four available primary care physician clinics in such a large, rural county and asking elderly, disabled and financially disadvantaged patients to take on the burden of such a long drive, on a mountainous route, to receive medical attention when there’s a clinic established in our community,” the petition reads.

Curry said Pocahontas County patients have other options.

“We certainly looked at and considered that there are other health care organizations in Pocahontas County,” he said. “We are a federally-qualified health clinic. There is a new federally-qualified health clinic that opened up in Marlinton, approximately 18 months to two years ago – that is Community Care of West Virginia.”

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” the CEO added. “It wasn’t done in haste. It wasn’t done overnight, and we certainly have feelings for the position it puts the patient in. But, on the other hand, you’ve got to be profitable, too.”

Curry said about 1,000 patients will be affected by the clinic relocation. The last day patients will be seen at Hillsboro will be December 31. Administrative staff will continue to work at Hillsboro until January 31.

Willhite’s petition can be viewed and signed online at www.change.org/petitions/ceo-of-northern-greenbrier-health-clinic-keep-browning-family-practice-in-hillsboro-wv-open.

 

 

About the Author

- Geoff Hamill can be contacted at gshamill@pocahontastimes.com