Pineville hospital employees hold protest: Hope to raise attention, support for community hospital

Published 1:34 pm Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Horns sounded as cars zoomed by on U.S. 25E Wednesday, but the occasion was anything but a parade. People were sounding their horns to show support for hospital employees standing outside of Pineville Community Healthcare with signs expressing their struggle.

News recently broke that the Pineville City Council had to withdraw their funding efforts to sustain the hospital due to Tranzon and the bankruptcy court continually changing the mark of the requirements. The unfortunate decision has put the hospital rushing for buyers.

“I’ve been in this community at least for about 20 years. This hospital is essential to the community and also for the children that are growing up in this area,” said Dr. Velupillai Wignakumar. “They’ve got to have some kind of icon in the community. This hospital has been an icon to this community. That is one of the reasons this hospital should stay open.

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“At this time, we are just about to close this hospital — even though for day-to-day running, the hospital is fully open. (It) can be managed quite adequately without any help from anybody else.”

Wignakumar said the employees decided to protest Wednesday because with 48 hours the hospital could be closed. The doctor said there are no potential buyers even though two people have placed bids for the hospital. With no clear direction from the bankruptcy courts, the employees are left to wonder the outcome of a hospital that has been in the community for decades.

“Right now, all of these people are working without any salary or any wages, but they’re here because they want to keep the hospital open,” said Wignakumar.

One of those workers still performing their job is 28-year employee Betsy Marsee, who worked 26 years as a phlebotomist in the lab and the last two years in ER admissions.

“We need our hospital. The community needs the hospital. If you were to get injured in Stoney Fork, you’re 10 miles-plus out and then you’re going to have to get to Barbourville or…Middlesboro,” said Marsee. “I work in ER admissions, and I have seen us make the difference.

“There is not a business this won’t affect. It will affect all of Middlesboro businesses, it’ll affect all of Pineville’s and it will affect all the banks.”

Marsee said she was affected first hand by the problems brought on from the Americore administration. She said when her husband died, she could not receive her life insurance because Americore officials did not pay it.

“Americore did not pay my life insurance,” said Marsee. “(Americore officials) never came to me and said ‘we didn’t pay your life insurance.’ It was continually cut out of my paycheck.”

Despite feeling the continued negative effects allegedly caused during the Americore administration, employees are still hopeful that the hospital can be saved and returned to its former glory.

“We know it’s got potential,” said Mike Liford, who has worked in maintenance at the hospital for the past four years. “The last couple of years have been tough, but we know the hospital can make it with the right help. The city stepped in and did all they could do. We’re looking for help a little higher than that.

“This community needs this hospital. It’s not just for us workers to have a job. That’s not why we’re here. We care about it. We care about the community, (and) we care about the patient. That’s what it’s all about.”

Wignakumar agrees the hospital can be successful with the help of the government, local politicians and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

As the employees stood side-by-side with a common goal, one phrase could be seen throughout the crowd: PCH Strong.

“We are a family here. I’ve been here. We’ve made lifetime friendships here. If you come in this hospital, you’re treated like family,” said Marsee. “We’ve all held together through all of this. Some people have had to go and find other jobs, but they still are part of our PCH strong family.”

That family will continue to wait over at least the next couple of days as they hope for a purchase to keep their hospital open.