The first hospital for Pocahontas County was completed in 1906 in the town of Marlinton. Since the very beginning of the hospital, a problem has been the care of people who are unable to pay for the services rendered. By the spring of 1926, the privately run hospital had been plagued with so many financial problems that it was feared the hospital might have to close its doors. To prevent this, a group of citizens led a fundraising campaign for the purpose of modernizing the facility. In addition, a petition was made to the County Court to designate the hospital as a Memorial Hospital in honor of the county men and women who had served in World War I and to be operated under a Court-appointed Board of Directors. The hospital moved from private ownership to a county ownership.
A short four years later, the building was destroyed by a fire, believed to have started in the furnace area of the basement. All patients were evacuated safely, but countless belongings and equipment were lost. The County Court moved quickly to replace the building and it was opened for patients on January 16, 1932.
Financial problems certainly did not go away over the years, but some years were better than others. The presence of CCC work camps in the county during the 1930s brought an influx of patients to the hospital which helped make it more financially sound. The closing of most of the camps ten years later brought the return of down times. During World War II, travel restrictions helped keep the sick closer to home and in turn, helped the hospital’s bottom line. However, by January 1946, the hospital was running such a deficit that the Court voted to close the facility. Public response caused the Court to reconsider and the hospital remained open. Special tax levies were approved by the voters of the county in 1946 and 1948 which were used for equipment, maintenance, operating costs, and improvements at the hospital.
By the mid 1950s, the use of Pocahontas Memorial Hospital had increased to the point where a profit was being made and additional space was needed. A building fund was begun and a new addition was opened in May 1957 that included new x-ray, maternity suites, emergency room, laboratory, and surgery facilities.
In the early 1980s, the hospital was again facing financial problems due to a smaller county population, easier access to other hospitals, a high turnover rate of doctors in the area, and improved medical procedures that required less hospital time. In November 1985, the hospital was crippled even further when a devastating flood covered the basement of the hospital and more than a foot of the first floor. The basement had housed the laboratory, x-ray, emergency room, dietary, central supply and purchasing, respiratory therapy, and the heating system. The first floor had housed the offices included billing, pharmacy, and patient rooms. A long fight for survival became an even greater challenge.
The hospital board and the community began work to build a new hospital on a hill approximately two miles from the flood-prone town of Marlinton. The move was opposed by some, but after a great struggle, construction began on the new Pocahontas Memorial Hospital in the proposed location. It was a labor of love for both supportive community members and hospital employees who forfeited money from their own paychecks to build the new facility.
The new hospital opened in October 1995 and the employees, community, and hospital board were thrilled with the shiny, modern facility. Finally, all patient rooms had their own private bathrooms (instead of shared), rooms were bright, floors were shiny and clean, and windows looked out over the trees and mountains of Pocahontas County.
Less than three months later, Marlinton once again suffered a devastating flood. This time, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital was able to open wide its doors and welcome those in need of care and refuge. It was a truly a blessing to have the hospital in its new location. The old hospital, however, was flooded once again and beyond any repair. The County sadly agreed that it was time for the historic building to be demolished.
The difficulties suffered cannot take away from over 100 years of service given by this institution and its staff in that time. One constant through the years has been the love and support that community members and employees have had – and continue to have – for Pocahontas Memorial Hospital. The challenges facing healthcare continue to be many and still include the nonpayment of medical services that Pocahontas Memorial Hospital is called to give, even with the knowledge that an individual cannot pay. But as the only hospital in the 940 square miles that make up Pocahontas County, it is difficult to imagine living here without it. Lives have been saved and countless people restored to health due to its existence.
Many thanks to William McNeel (History of Pocahontas County, West Virginia 1981) and Terry Wagner for providing this historical biography of the hospital.