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DHHR secretary wants Jackie Withrow bill included in any special session


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Although a bill to sell Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley failed in the just concluded legislative session, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch doesn’t believe the issue is dead.

Crouch told The Register-Herald Monday that he will ask Gov. Jim Justice to include another measure to sell the facility in any special session called to deal with the budget.

The secretary  said he is looking at putting on the session call bills to sell not only the longterm care facility in Beckley, but Hopemont Hospital in Terra Alta as well.

Separate bills to sell the facilities made it to the last few days of session before dying in the House a day apart.

House Bill 2366 called for a new 90-bed facility to be built on site and patients to be transferred upon the sale of the Beckley facility.

It also would have created a benefits package for all those who are laid off, employed by a successor company or retire as a result of the divestment.

After the Senate passed the bill, it headed over to the House to concur or reject but the body did not take it up Saturday.

If the governor calls a special budget session, he could also include a very narrowly defined purpose for bills to be taken up again.

If the governor does not decide to take them up or does not call a special session, Crouch said he is unsure how he will proceed, not wanting to predict something that far into the future.

He said the department does have statutory authority to sell a state facility but he believes such major decisions, he wanted the Legislature’s buy-in.

He said his hopes for the two sites are threefold.

“I want to make sure there is a better environment for residents under care, to make sure they are well cared for,” he said. “A private company can do that and they can pay employees more. They would have a severance packaged and possibly a new facility with a better paying job. So, there’s that benefit. It gets the state out of a liability issue, also.”

He said building another facility on site wasn’t his preference and that he would rather a new facility be built within a 5-mile radius. However, he said there is no desire to move jobs or residents outside of either community.

He hopes the buildings can be replaced and to create a better atmosphere for residents and employees.

“They are a couple of really old buildings that need replaced. There is a lot of money (put) into these buildings to keep them operational. Residents in both of those buildings do not have the best environments. The buildings are just too old.”

Age is the biggest problem facing the Beckley hospital, he said.

“The building, depending on what part of the building you’re in, is 87 years-old,” he said. “Some parts may be older. …It just needs replaced. Even in the private sector when it reaches 40-45 years-old, folks start looking at replacing it.”

Crouch said the cost to maintain a building of its age is very high, mentioning a recent problem with a boiler that cost a significant amount of money to fix.

“The maintenance costs are very high,” he said. “It’s just too old for continued use. At some point in time, we are going to have problems much more difficult to repair.”

He said he would love to see patients relocated into a newer building that provides more amenities. He said he thinks employees could benefit.

“Some folks, they have been there 20 years or longer, employed by the facility. I don’t want to see them losing their retirement benefits. …The language is the same thing as when the workers’ compensation program was privatized through Brickstreet.”

He said the task that could prove difficult is finding a private sector buyer.

“Residents are a higher acuity so they need higher staffing levels,” he said. “I told the Legislature point blank that I’m not sure I can find a buyer for it. If I can’t, I’ll have to look at other buyers. Other states are doing this, privatizing their longterm care facilities, so it is a good possibility.”

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