W. Va. Hospital Says Lawsuits Drive Conversion to Urgent Care Center

August 7, 2006

Besieged by malpractice lawsuits targeting one of its former doctors, Putnam General Hospital will cease all inpatient services at the end of the month and operate instead as an urgent care center, officials announced Tuesday.

“Our painstaking assessment indicates that Putnam General cannot continue to be operated as an acute-care hospital,” said Margaret Lewis, an executive with Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Inc, which owns the hospital.

Lewis cited lawsuits filed by more that 100 patients or their survivors alleging malpractice by osteopath Dr. John King, who spent seven months at the Hurricane hospital working as an orthopedic surgeon.

“These actions are devastating to the hospital, and they jeopardize our ability to continue providing high-quality inpatient care in the future,” Lewis said Lewis, president of HCA’s Capital Division.

Officials also cited high employee turnover, with one-in-three staffers quitting last year. And though licensed for 68 beds, Putnam General treated an average of 36 patients a day in 2005, officials said.

The hospital reported an operating loss of $2.4 million that year, after posting profits in 2004 and 2003.

The switch is scheduled for Aug. 29. Lewis said Putnam General’s 300 full-time employees will receive pay and benefits through Sept. 30, with the hospital also providing outplacement services.

HCA tried to sell Putnam General to former subsidiary LifePoint Hospitals Inc. last year. The deal later fell through, and Putnam General was dropped from the group of HCA hospitals acquired by LifePoint for $239 million in June.

Lewis faulted lawyers for the suing patients for trying to delay Putnam General’s proposed sale by petitioning regulators at the state Health Care Authority.

King has received national headlines over the lawsuits racked up in West Virginia, which allege he harmed, maimed and in some cases killed patients. He and Putnam General are fighting the allegations. King changed his name in March to Christopher Wallace Martin in his native Alabama.

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