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Photo by John McCabe West Virginia University President and CEO of Health Systems Albert Wright discusses Friday the commitment WVU Medicine is making to Wheeling through a planned regional cancer center on the site of the former Ohio Valley Medical Center in Center Wheeling.

WHEELING — Friday was a landmark day for the City of Wheeling, as officials from WVU Medicine and Ohio County joined city leaders in announcing $70 million investment plans to create a new regional cancer center on the site of the former Ohio Valley Medical Center.

As part of the plan, all remaining vacant buildings on the OVMC campus will be demolished and removed, and a new state-of-the-art regional cancer center will be built on the Center Wheeling property by WVU Health System and the WVU Cancer Institute.

“It was devastating when the OVMC closed,” Wheeling City Superintendent Robert Herron said, noting the hospital served the Ohio Valley for more than a century before it officially closed in 2019. “However, today we begin a new beginning with plans for high quality health care for current and future generations of our citizens. The new state-of-the-art facility to be built here will advance cancer care throughout our region for many years to come. It will also serve as a terrific new economic engine for the central market area, downtown and the city as a whole.

Following the OVMC’s closure, members of city council acquired the sprawling property with the intention of having a say in its future.

“Two and a half years ago, the city council took a significant risk by accepting this campus for future development,” Herron noted. “They did their due diligence, deliberated thoughtfully, and made the difficult decision they felt was in the best interest of the city. There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but today that vision and that risk are starting to pay off in a meaningful way.

Albert Wright Jr., president and CEO of West Virginia University Health System, said this project would not have been possible if city leaders had not taken the risk of acquire the former hospital property and step in to serve as stewards of its next chapter.

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“I think the city did what they had to do to take over this campus, and then they got very creative in working with us to find a way forward that allowed us to make it an economically feasible plan,” says Wright. “It wouldn’t have happened without the city.”

Although the company is still in the early stages of planning, officials said the new center will likely offer medical oncology, radiation oncology and mammography services, a melanoma center, a specialty pharmacy, telemedicine capabilities, multidisciplinary tumor advice and academic research facilities. The preliminary vision calls for a four-story facility with between 75,000 and 90,000 square feet of space, a workforce of approximately 150 employees and a service volume of approximately 40,000 patient visits per year.

It is estimated that the center could be open within five years.

“This is a huge win for WVU Medicine, and I think it will be a huge win for the City of Wheeling and for Ohio County,” says Wright. “We are going to build a spectacular building and program here. We hope you and your loved ones will never need it, but if and when you do, we’ll be there.

WVU Medicine has made great strides in advancing healthcare services in area communities in recent years. In the Ohio Valley alone, WVU Medicine has taken the wheel to Reynolds Memorial Hospital and Wheeling Hospital, as well as Barnesville Hospital, Harrison Community Hospital Cadiz, Hospital from Wetzel County to New Martinsville and other Mountain State institutions.

“To stand here today and see how we are starting to see health care thrive in the northern panhandle is quite exciting,” Wright said, citing doctors and specialists that WVU Medicine recently recruited from the area. This trend is expected to continue with the construction of the new cancer center, he said. “The future of health care here is now exceptionally bright.”

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Bernie Twigg, chairman of the board of directors for WVU Medicine Reynolds Memorial and Wheeling Hospitals, said once the new facility is operational, it will have a huge impact on the healthcare landscape across the region.

“That means your families don’t go to Pittsburgh, you don’t go to Columbus or Cleveland – you stay here in Wheeling, close to your family, and you’ll get the best care you can find,” said Twigg. “It will be remarkable. In a few years, we will all be amazed as we cut the ribbon.

Douglass Harrison, president and CEO of WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital and WVU Medicine Reynolds Memorial Hospital, said the need for regional cancer care in the Ohio Valley is critical, as is the need to work in collaboration to bring them together.

“It’s about strategic partnerships”, said Harrison. “It advances the clinical capabilities of what we offer in this region in cancer care. The number of new cancer cases arriving at our center every day is staggering. »

The new center will not only meet the needs of the community, but also have a significant economic impact on the region, Harrison noted, estimating WVU Medicine’s investment in the venture at around $70 million.

A collaborative plan has been put in place to address the asbestos removal and demolition of the number of existing buildings on the former OVMC campus. Herron said the city will contribute $2 million to the demolition, as will the county. WVU Medicine will contribute $3 million for the demolition, and the city has already secured a $500,000 federal allocation for asbestos abatement. An additional $2.2 million is being sought through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 108 loan/grant to serve as an emergency fund in case reduction and demolition costs exceed initial estimates. Herron explained that the site preparation that led to the development of the Lowe’s store and Orrick’s facilities in Center Wheeling used the same HUD Section 108 mechanism as a safety net.

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Overall, the demolition is expected to cost between $7 million and $9 million, Herron said.

The Valley Professional Center building, where the new Wheeling Police Department headquarters is being completed, and the former Robert C. Byrd Behavioral Health Center for Children and Adolescents, which was the only building not to be part of the city’s acquisition of the former OVMC buildings from former owner MPT in 2019, are expected to be the only facilities at the former hospital still standing and operational. Even the city-owned Center Wheeling Parking Garage is set to be bulldozed after next year.

Herron said it is hoped the site can be transferred to WVU by the end of the year and that demolition is expected to take between six and 12 months.

With the second highest cancer death rate in the United States, the most common cancer diagnoses in West Virginia are female breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, and cancer. colon and rectum, WVU Medicine officials noted.

“The needs are legendary” Dr. Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, surgical oncologist and director of the WVU Cancer Institute, said. “This new center will become a vital part of the WVU Cancer Institute’s integrated cancer care network across the state and region, and will be connected to a broader team of cancer specialists and subspecialists for consultation and expert opinions.”

After the new cancer center opens, the WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital’s Schiffler Cancer Center, Reynolds cancer facilities and other local health system cancer treatment sites will be consolidated into the new facility. The space previously occupied by cancer services on these existing campuses will then be filled by other clinical activities, Wright said.

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