WV House votes to sell Hopemont Hospital

By JAKE ZUCKERMAN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates voted Wednesday to begin the process of selling Hopemont Hospital in Preston County.

Without a legislator to spare, HB 3102 passed via a 51-49 decision. Following the roll call, Wednesday’s legislation will join a similar bill passed by the House last week to divest from Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley.

Both bills are still pending approval from the Senate and the Governor.

According to House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, Wednesday’s bill will give the Secretary of Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch latitude to find a buyer for the hospital. He will also be responsible for ensuring patient transfer to area hospitals, and working with the Division of Personnel to minimize employee effects or issue severance packages.

Nelson said the facility is 104 years old, costs the state $4.5 million annually, and that the run-down facility has been understaffed and underpopulated for years.

Although the House approved the sale of Jackie Withrow hospital with a more comfortable 58-41 spread, several delegates criticized the bill Wednesday regarding Hopemont for its lack of specificity regarding how the sale will work. The Jackie Withrow bill also did not lay out a specific plan.

Del. Terri Sypolt, R-Preston, said though the Hopemont bill requires the state to transfer patients to a nearby facility, it doesn’t specify which one or how far, meaning they could potentially be put anywhere in the state.

“When it says, ‘a new facility could be in the area,’ with ‘area’ not defined, that also means that could be very broad and area could mean anywhere in the state,” she said.

Nelson conceded the point and said it’s up to the Secretary of the DHHR’s interpretation.

Along with Sypolt, Del. Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, said given the risk in firing state employees and a lapse in patient care, the state should have a plan before the bill is passed.

“There’s no guarantee it’s going to be put in that area, we don’t know if the patients are going to go from Preston County down to Raleigh County – we don’t know because there is no up-front plan,” she said.

Closing the discussion before the vote, Nelson said although there is no plan yet, the bill still requires Crouch to come up with one and present it to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance along with a government oversight committee before taking action.

He said the bill is a move toward improving patient care.

“This is just a vehicle to help improve the area up there to better treat those that need the treatment,” he said.

Between the two bills to begin the process of selling the hospitals, 15 legislators changed their votes.

Along with Jackie Withrow and Hopemont, Crouch has said in the past he would like to see legislation in the future divesting the state from other aging hospitals it owns.

Del. Lynn Arvon, R-Raleigh, voted against selling Jackie Withrow Hospital, which is in her district, but in favor of selling Hopemont Hospital.

“I know it needs to be done for all four, but Jackie Withrow is in my district, I know people who work there, and I know patients there,” she said in a follow-up interview.

Arvon continued that she’s likely to vote in favor of selling any more state-run facilities.

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