By KELSE LEROSE
Times West Virginian
FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Two bills introduced in the West Virginia State Legislature could have a negative impact on the senior citizens of Marion County.
In March, the West Virginia House of Delegates introduced HB 2736 and the State Senate introduced SB 201 in relation to state-owned healthcare facilities.
Senate Bill 201 relates to, “exploring potential sale, renovation or leasing of certain state-owned health care facilities,” while the House Bill 2736 involves, “selling of certain state owned long-term care facilities by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources.”
According to legis.state.wv.us, the Senate Bill has not seen any action since March 9, however, there has been some progress on the House Bill.
Debbie Harvey, director for Marion County Senior Citizens, said the John Manchin Sr. Health Care Center could face closing with both bills.
“They do all of our food,” she said. “We deliver approximately 112 home-delivered meals a day plus the meals (here). We have about 200 meals that come from John Manchin daily.”
She added that the senior center’s kitchen would not be able to take over meal preparation.
“Our kitchens are not commercial grade” she said. “Therefore we are not able to prepare our own food, and to do that it would cost a lot of money to come up with a commercial-grade kitchen. We do not have the funding in our budget. We do not have the funding in our budget to hire a staff to prepare our meals. It would then require me to have to find someone else to do it. And they were doing our meals at cost.
“It could have a huge impact. It is very important that we try to do all we can to help save that facility and keep it in our community.”
In response to the bills, the senior citizens have started a petition with more than 800 signatures to stop the legislation with the help of local businesses.
“Our board sent a letter to every delegate and every senator in the state,” Harvey said. “I have phone calls out to Congressman (David) McKinley and Senator (Joe) Manchin’s staff to try to get their support, and of course our local delegates and senators are on board.
“There is a lot of community involvement, which I think is so nice for John Manchin’s because they do so much for the community.”
Linda Crago attends lunch at the senior center. She said she is afraid of John Manchin Center closing.
“I wouldn’t get a full meal a day, and it is really good food, too,” she explained. “It is also good nutrition. … They want to take stuff from us senior citizens, and I feel that they (shouldn’t) be able to cut our stuff.”
Several residents expressed that they are afraid it could could close down the senior center.
In addition to the meals, the senior centers offer a lot of services and activities for the citizens such as Bible study, bingo, line-dancing, medical runs and transportation.
“We depend on our medical runs,” Ruth DeMary said while eating lunch at the senior center. “It is a great service.”
“We are able to go to the bank, on Mondays we get to go to Wal-Mart. We get to go grocery shopping,” Maria added. “A lot of us don’t drive, and that is why we use it.”
The friendships made at the senior center are important to them, as well.
“You meet a lot of nice people, and they become your good friends,” DeMary said.
One resident expressed that the senior center is all that they have.
“It’s not that we don’t have family, but they have their own family and are working so they can’t help you,” Maria said. “It allows us to still have some independence.”
Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, said the bill has been in the House Health and Human Resources and Finance committees — both committees on which she sits.
“We have a new director at DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resources) and his goal is to shut down all state nursing home facilities,” she said. “That is big because that includes the psychiatric hospitals and it could even include our VA Hospital.”
The bill started with the idea of closing all state-owned facilities. Realizing that would never pass, Longstreth said the majority decided to close one nursing home at a time, and have started with Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley and Hopemont Hospital in Preston County.
Longstreth is cornered for the John Manchin clinic and clinics throughout the entire state.
“I am concerned for the fact that there is no plan as to really what they are going to do with those patients — what are they going to do with the state employees,” she said.
She added the reason for the new secretary wanting to do this is “we are not a healthcare business.”
“But, yes, we are. We have an obligation to take care of these state nursing homes because they are run by the state,” Longstreth said.
The short bill was amended Friday in the Finance Committee to offer the employees a severance package, Longstreth said.
“That is a little better, but the problem is there is no plan at the front end of all of this,” she said. “Where are they going to go if you sell them? Who are you going to sell them to? Are you going to sell them to who somebody is going to open a nursing home? Or are they going to tear it down and build condos? We are not getting that answer.”
Longstreth said she is part of a small majority not in favor of the bill. She recognizes the importance of the services and activities offered by the facilities all over the state.
“I am trying to do some amendments to say I want some security in there,” she said. “The majority party has voted all of these ammendments down, so we are back to Square 1. I have done some amendments (Friday) morning again in Finance doing the same thing, but we never got that far.”
This is a big issue, and the only answer the minority gets is if they can’t sell them, they might have to rehabilitate the facility or build another one, Longstreth added.
“Let me be clear about that — there is no money to do that,” she said.
She hopes to stop the process at these two nursing homes until they decide what they are going to do.
“I don’t know if we can stop that,” Longstreth said. “I am in the minority, there is only eight of us out of 25 on these committees (against it). It is very sad.”
The petition started in Marion County was read on the floor Thursday, Longstreth said.
“We are doing all we can do,” she added. “We are getting people to sign petitions, we have people making phone calls and we are trying to do amendments so we can make it better because it is going to pass. They have the numbers to make it pass.”
Longstreth added that everyone has a right to be worried, and she has been in contact with the senior center and John Manchin Center to keep them up to date.
“These employees have no clue when it may happen,” she said. “They have a right to be cornered. They are upset. I am upset. My delegates here and other delegates are upset, but we don’t have the numbers and votes to stop it.
“I don’t know if they will be able to get to John Manchin, but I know they plan to put it on the agenda next session if they don’t get to it this session.”
To track the progress of these bills, visit www.legis.state.wv.us.
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