W.Va. officials should act on mental health issues

An editorial from The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — For years, the care of those afflicted with mental illness in West Virginia has been oft criticized, especially in regard to state facilities.

Complaints about inadequate and inappropriate care, poor facilities and lack of staff have plagued both the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston, and the Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington.

A lawsuit playing out in Kanawha County court highlights some of the concerns, especially those with regard to the treatment of employees, which carries over to the care of the patients.

Without question, the state Department of Health and Human Resources is woefully underfunded in regard to the care of the mentally ill. Workers in state mental facilities rank as some of the lowest on state payrolls.

Because of that, filling staff positions is often difficult, forcing workers who already are feeling unappreciated and overworked to work even more hours of mandatory overtime.

Workers also have voiced numerous complaints about their safety, as some patients who have been convicted of crimes pose a threat to workers, especially if those workers are lacking adequate assistance because of a manpower shortage.

The lawsuit has brought the various sides to the table, sometimes under court order, to try to work through problems.

Recently, the DHHR has proposed doing market rate studies to determine competitive wages for those workers who provide direct care to patients.

That’s a step in the right direction, but there remain many other issues to solve for the betterment of patients and employees.

What’s unfortunate in all of this is that it’s taken a lawsuit and subsequent court orders to call attention to obvious problems…

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