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Closure of OVMC forces social service agencies to find new homes

WHEELING — The closure of Ohio Valley Medical Center is forcing two social service agencies to leave the OVMC campus.

The Upper Ohio Valley Sexual Assault Help Center moved Wednesday from OVMC’s South Professional Building. Harmony House Children’s Advocacy Center has to vacate its office in the former hospital’s East Building by Dec. 31.

OVMC’s sudden closure on Sept. 4 has left the two agencies, plus several physicians, scrambling to find suitable space for their offices.

The Sexual Assault Help Center is moving to a downtown site. It marks the nonprofit agency’s third move in two years, all resulting from the upheaval at OVMC.

“This transition has been quite quick, (but) it’s a new fresh start,” said Ashley Carpenter, executive director of SAHC. “This is opening a new chapter. That’s just exciting.”

The center is closed through Friday, but plans to be open at its new site Monday. If emergencies arise this week, sexual assault victims can still reach SAHC advocates by calling the agency’s hotline, (800) 884-7242, or sending a private message on its Facebook page, Carpenter said. Even though the office is closed temporarily, advocates are still accompanying victims to hospitals during this period.

“It’s important that we all work together during this transition so we can help our victims as much as we can,” Carpenter said.

The agency is moving to one of developer Dean Connors’ buildings.

“We’re quite grateful,” Carpenter said. “We’re very appreciative of his (Connors’) graciousness and his patience.”

She declined to reveal the exact location in order to protect clients’ privacy and safety. She said Connors has made sure the building’s security and safety measures meet the agency’s needs.

“I also appreciate our community for helping the Sexual Assault Help Center with this move,” she said. “I genuinely thank the people, the community, that have wrapped their arms around us during this transition.”

In particular, the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley and Williams Energy are assisting SAHC with the move.

“Williams Energy volunteered 10 individuals to help us move,” Carpenter said. “The United Way helped us get that connection with Williams Energy so they were huge in this transition.”

Carpenter began searching for a new location immediately after hearing that the hospital was closing.

“We have been housed at OVMC for the last 40 years,” she said. For most of that time, the agency was located in the former nurses’ residence.

When OVMC was purchased by Alecto Healthcare Services in 2017, officials determined the former nurses’ residence was no longer habitable. SAHC’s office then moved to the sixth floor of OVMC’s East Building. In March, the office was relocated to the South Professional Building’s seventh floor.

Despite the challenges, SAHC officials are appreciative of OVMC’s generosity over the years.

“We are tremendously grateful for OVMC. They have let us stay here with no rent for the last 40 years,” she said.

The agency will be paying rent to Connors, but will occupy about the same amount of space in his building as it had at OVMC.

In searching for a new location, SAHC had specific requirements. “We need enclosed space for each one of our five advocates to have privacy,” she said.

Adequate space also was needed to hold meetings of support groups and other programs. Currently, the organization is helping more than 300 survivors and family members, she said.

“It’s difficult for a nonprofit to find space that is affordable and well-taken care of,” Carpenter said. “Being warm and welcoming and inviting is important for our agency. It’s important to have that for our survivors.”

Because of the nature of SAHC’s services, she said, “We have to ensure that there is that safety, privacy and confidentiality element. That can be challenging in downtown Wheeling. We have that in our new space. We’ll be in a building with multiple agencies. It gives that further bit of confidentiality and anonymity.”

With OVMC’s closure, “there’s going to be a significant amount of displaced doctors, patients and survivors,” she said. “It’s a great loss for this community. It’s very unfortunate.”

Meanwhile, Rita Coyne, new executive director of Harmony House, was notified by OVMC CEO Dan Dunmyer that the center’s lease is being terminated on Dec. 31. Harmony House has been at this site since 2007 and has paid nominal rent based on an in-kind calculation, she said.

“We are currently looking at potential sites for relocating our Wheeling office,” Coyne said.

Ensuring the continuation of services is one of the main priorities during the search process, she said. The board is seeking a site that is affordable and offers off-street parking, privacy and confidentiality for clients.

Harmony House also has a St. Clairsville office that could serve as a temporary location for its Wheeling operations. However, she said, “Our main goal is to move once.”

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