Opinion, WVPA Sharing

Opinion: To effect change, we must have information

By Del. Amy Summers, chair of the House Health and Human Resources Committee and co-chair of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability

It can be easy to under-estimate the legislative work done through the interim committee process when we’re not under the microscope and in the thick of the regular session. These committees are made up of both Senators and Delegates, and their purviews are different from the regular session committees. This is really our time to dig deep and study the issues we hope to address during our limited 60 days of lawmaking.

West Virginia Secretary of Health Facilities Michael Caruso and others arranged visits to state-owned psychiatric facilities last year for lawmakers and our staff. It was insightful for me, both from a budget standpoint and a system-of-care standpoint. It showed me the state needs to plan to invest in a replacement facility for our Huntington psychiatric hospital on its current property and that the Weston facility may need to expand. 

When Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCCHRA) members were told the scheduled speakers for our April 16 meeting would not be available to discuss critical issues and long-term planning for our state-owned health facilities, I reached out to Secretary Caruso without success. As Co-Chair of LOCCHRA, I am asking for the same type of meetings I did in the past for many of our state-owned laboratories. Once those laboratory tours were complete, we were able to build consensus that the state needed a brand new, state-of-the-art laboratory, and funding was requested. It now is in the process of being built. I have asked our staff to coordinate on-site visits to all the health facilities owned by the State of West Virginia, starting with Hopemont State Hospital.

How can the West Virginia Legislature comprehend the state’s most dire problems, let alone look for the solutions to them, without information? How do I know if the $90,000 increase in the budget line item for maintenance and repairs to Hopemont is enough to solve a problem that led to a patient burned so badly it resulted in his death? I refuse to accept this type of care as the care a West Virginia-owned facility, or any facility, provides!

The Legislature cannot and should not attempt to manage the day-to-day operations of the Executive Branch, but we can and we will change laws, regulations and funds when we are shown the need. We have practically begged the newly separated departments of health to show and tell us where additional funds are necessary, and this most recent opportunity to do so was wasted.  

Tears come to my eyes when I think of the pain a nonverbal, elderly man suffering from dementia must have endured sitting in scalding water for over 45 minutes. If we are expected to allocate and adjust state funds during a May special session, we should be clear about where those funds are desperately needed well before we gavel in. 

If we do not stand up for these individuals in state care, who will? 

Amy Summers, MSN, RN, is a Republican from Taylor County. She serves as Chair of the WV House of Delegates Health and Human Resources Committee and Co-Chair of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability. She previously served as House Majority Leader and first was elected in 2014.

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