New task force aimed at keeping rural WVa hospitals open

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia's governor plans to establish a task force on health care aimed at keeping rural hospitals open.

Justice will outline the details and duties of the Rural Medicine Task Force in an executive order next week, his office said in a news release Wednesday.

“We must stop our rural hospitals from closing,” Justice said. “I intend to bring together all the major hospitals and all the leading players to work on this issue. They have the expertise necessary to develop solutions for solving the delivery of rural medicine and care in West Virginia."

Over the past year, hospitals have closed in Bluefield, Richwood and Wheeling. Williamson Memorial Hospital filed for bankruptcy in October, and a nonprofit system that operates hospitals in Charleston and South Charleston announced last month it planned to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy but would remain open.

Officials announced last week that a hospital in Ashland, Kentucky, near Huntington, West Virginia, would shut down later this year.

“Maintaining hospital and emergency care services for our citizens is an extremely high priority of mine and that’s why I am forming this task force to find ways to stop the closure of our community hospitals," Justice said.

The statement said Justice will meet with officials from his administration along with what it termed interested private parties in the coming days.