By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would sell the assets of the Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley now heads to the House floor.
The House Committee on Finance passed the committee substitute for House Bill 2366 in its Monday meeting.
Under the new version, the DHHR secretary would put together a benefits package for employees adversely affected by the sale. The new version also eliminated the requirement that the secretary would have to sell empty beds by July 1 and a provision that would cap the number of patients in the facility.
“This is substantially improved over what we were given in health … but the bill is a stronger bill with improved protections for employees and residents,” commented Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh.
The facility was built in the 1930s with a 644-bed capacity to serve as a tuberculosis sanitarium and later transitioned to a long-term elderly care facility hosting 91 patients and 137 employees.
Delegate Eric Nelson asked DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch about his long-term goal for residents and employees.
“My plan is, I believe the state has liability with this building. It’s very old. I was there last week and it is not the best environment for the residents,” Crouch said.
He went on to say his plan is to find a buyer for the beds and that buyer will build a facility in the area. He said existing facilities are at capacity so residents could not move to the private sector.
“We need a provider from out-of-state who does this for a living,” he said. “Other states are going through the same process of privatizing long-term care facilities and they’re not bound by the requirements that our folks have of purchasing and civil service requirements.”
He said his goal is three-fold.
“Get the state out of our potential problems with this building, move residents into a new facility and provide employees with some sort of severance or additional revenue at the close of this transfer of property so those who have been there for years depending on it do not lose their retirement,” Crouch said.
The committee took up three amendments to the bill. Bates wanted to amend the bill to put in language regarding a patient bill of rights under federal law.
Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, asked him if there was a difference between federal law and state law regarding this issue.
Bates responded that he couldn’t find anything specifically outlined in state code and the only place he could find it was under CMS guidelines.
“The second draft goes a long way to address concerns I had,” Bates said. “This adds one level of additional protections to people instituted there. This facility is their home. Discharge rights provides that level of protections. I’m sure the secretary intends to follow these but we have a responsibility to residents that we don’t intend to close without making sure they have a home to go to.”
Crouch said CMS guidelines are followed anyway.
Bates’ amendment was rejected.
The second amendment, which was approved, added provides for the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability to verify the results of any type of sale.
The third amendment, which was rejected, dealt with retaining employees in good standing and transferring them to other state employment and were laid off as a result of the sale.
Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, said there are already provisions under the current bill that allow for retraining for employees and some placement on a re-employment list.
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