CHARLESTON – It seems Putnam General Hospital won't close after all after Charleston Area Medical Center announced plans to buy the embattle facility.

The proposed $15 million sale of the facility by parent company Hospital Corporation of America still needs government approval, but leaders seem optimistic the deal with go through.

And South Charleston's Thomas Memorial Hospital also said it is interested in buying Putnam General if the CAMC deal falls through for some reason.

Last week, before the sale was announced, a lawyer in some of the 100-plus lawsuits against Dr. John King and Putnam General said the suits shouldn't affect the hospital's le or the ability to stay open because HCA has insurance to cover the claims.

"Putnam General has more than a billion dollars in insurance" for the claims against King from HCA, James M. Sturgeon Jr. wrote in a Friday letter to the West Virginia Health Care Authority, the state agency that regulates hospitals. "Unless HCA is attempting to weasel out of its insurance obligations, Putnam General would never pay a dime on any of these lawsuits."

Sturgeon, a lawyer and certified public accountant with the Charleston firm of Curry & Tolliver. He represents 71 of King's former patients. He wrote that HCA has $10 million in insurance for each malpractice suit filed against King, Putnam General and HCA.

More than 100 medical malpractice suits have been filed against King and Putnam General, alleging that he killed or maimed patients during the six months in late 2002 and early 2003 that he worked there as an orthopedic surgeon.

The CAMC deal must be examined by regulators: the West Virginia Health Care Authority, the West Virginia Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification, the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission's antitrust unit, the Bureau of Competition.

HCA Inc. announced last week that Putnam General would close by Aug. 29, and on Monday CAMC announced it planned to purchase the hospital for $15 million.

Sonia Chambers, who chairs the state Health Care Authority, said the agency received a letter from CAMC on Wednesday asking for an emergency certificate of need. West Virginia is one of 33 states and the District of Columbia that requires hospitals to have a certificate of need to operate.

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