A West Virginia hospital made a very unique request earlier this week. Authorities at St. Mary’s Medical Center asked a local judge for a restraining order against the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), which had announced plans to protest outside of a coal-boosting event at the hospital on Tuesday.
Janet Keating, OVEC's executive director, explained that the goal of the rally was to ask why a facility dedicated to health would host an event that promoted the coal industry, which is clearly linked to many public health problems.
“There's been a lot of silence from our state leaders about these health studies and the impacts on communities around coal,” said Keating. “It's a mystery to me why a hospital would want to host this. Our whole thing is, 'Let's not have it at a hospital, where you're supposed to be helping people.'”
Hoping to stifle such discussion, while claiming that the rally could impede the services conducted at the facility, St. Mary’s requested a temporary restraining order.
In the courtroom, representatives for OVEC assured the judge that the gathering would be a “peaceful, lawful protest that will not trespass onto the hospital’s property.”
And after the judge sided with the coalition, that’s exactly how the protest went down - as a peaceful and lawful reminder to Huntington area residents that the coal industry does not have the best interests of public health in mind.
The hospital, which also houses the St. Mary’s Center for Education, was hosting the Huntington Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Energy & Natural Resource Symposium, where the keynote speaker was Robert M. Duncan, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). A representative from the hospital wouldn’t confirm how much the Chamber of Commerce had paid for use of the facility, but said that it’s common for St. Mary’s to rent out space for conferences, and that the hospital was not promoting any particular cause.
“Well it is a conference center and the chamber of commerce has rented the facility to use for today’s symposium and that’s what’s going on there, “ said Doug Korstanje, Director of Marketing and Community Relations at the hospital. “And again, it’s not that we’re taking a stand on the issue it’s just that chamber of commerce is using the conference center for an energy symposium and we want to make sure that goes on as planned.”
In siding with OVEC, Cabell County Circuit Judge Paul Farrell said, “I’m going to deny your request, I suggest you put HPD on notice that you may need assistance if there is an issue. OVEC is a recognized environmental group that has their agenda, coal people have their agenda and those two shouldn’t clash.”
Ironically, the restraining order request only helped the exposure of the OVEC rally.
“It raises public awareness, we had no idea that the hospital would seek a temporary restraining order to keep us from having this rally and ironically we’re getting more publicity as a result of this and that’s fine with us,” Keating said.