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House votes 51-49 to sell Hopemont, bill moves to the Senate

Staff reports

The Preston County News & Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Hopemont Hospital is one step closer to being sold.

The West Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday voted by a narrow margin – 51 for to 49 against – to pass a bill that will sell the state hospital in Terra Alta.

Delegates Terri Sypolt and Tony Lewis (both R-Preston) and others spoke against the bill urging the body to vote no.

Eric Nelson, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said Hopemont loses $4.5 million every year, according to testimony by DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch.

“At the end of the day we have a 104-year-old facility that maintenance costs are going through the roof and we are subjecting these patients to an unhealthy environment,” Nelson said.

Both local representatives, Del. Terri Funk Sypolt, R-Preston and Tony Lewis, R-Preston urged the body to vote no to allow a plan to be put in place before taking action to close the facility.

“If you vote with us today,” Del. Terri Sypolt said during debate. “We could keep the residents, patients, at the Hopemont facility and we could keep the jobs in Preston County. What’s in it for you? What’s in it for West Virginia? We could keep that 700 acres that would be used as as site to build a substance abuse facility and we would still have 700 acres to maybe use to do an agriculture rehabilitation development project. We got 700 acres, we got an agriculture commissioner who believes in those kind of projects. That’s a no-brainer.”

“My concern is the patients,” Del. Lewis said. “Those residents are residents of Preston County and we need to take care of them.”

Lewis mentioned there is a drug rehabilitation center leasing space at Hopemont Hospital now and that the House passed HB 2428 to pay for 600 additional beds at private drug treatment facilities across the state.

“I think this is an ideal opportunity and area to make this work,” Lewis said. He asked about the possibility of building a drug rehab center in addition to a new nursing home at Hopemont.

HB 3102 now goes to the Senate, where the lawmaking process starts over. It will be assigned to one or more committees then go to the full Senate for first, second, and third readings and a vote. The more committees it gets assigned to, the slower it will move. If the Senate passes it with any amendments, the bill will go back to the House, where the delegates will vote on the amendment. If it passes the Senate, it goes to Gov. Jim Justice to be signed into law.

The Legislature’s regular session ends at midnight on April 8.

The bill orders the Department of Health and Human Resources to sell the property at Hopemont and build a replacement geriatric psychiatric nursing home with at least 60 beds to take care of the patients who live there now. It does not specifically say the new facility would be built on the same property.

It also instructs the DHHR and other state agencies to prepare a benefit severance package for Hopemont employees who are laid off, employed by a successor company, or decide to retire.

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