CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An online petition to stop House Bill 3102, legislation that would allow Hopemont Hospital in Preston County to be sold by the state, has 275 signatures.
One petitioner wrote, “These people matter, and they need Hopemont.”
“There are people that have been there for 17 years. It is their home, and the staff has become their family. DO NOT do this to them,” pleaded another petitioner.
Meanwhile, Bill Crouch, the Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), was before House Finance Committee members at the state Capitol Thursday answering questions about the long-term care facility and encouraging passage of the legislation that could lead to the privatization of the hospital in Terra Alta.
“I don’t know if there are buyers out there. I don’t know if I can do this. It’s what needs to be done. If it can’t be done, then I think we have to determine what we need in terms of facilities in West Virginia, in terms of replacement facilities, to take care of these folks,” Crouch said.
The first three cottages built as part of Hopemont Hospital were constructed in 1913. Two years prior, state lawmakers established the “tuberculosis sanatorium” through an act supported by the Anti-Tuberculosis League of West Virginia.
The facility now has 98 licensed beds and 58 residents, according to Crouch, serving geriatric and psychiatric patients.
Crouch said maintaining the state’s four facilities that provide specialized care is costly and the DHHR is not the best agency to keep them in operation.
“The real problems we have are Hopemont and Jackie Withrow in Beckley because those facilities, I believe Hopemont is 108 years old. We have to get out of this liability and we have to get folks in a better environment.”
The House Finance Committee already passed a similar bill allowing the DHHR to sell Jackie Withrow Hospital. The legislation (HB 2366) was sent to the full House for consideration.
The state also operates Lakin Hospital in Mason County and the John Manchin Sr. Health Center in Fairmont.
According to Crouch, there is a market for potential sales.
“There are companies out there who are doing this in other states that have their own long-term care and psychiatric facilities that are getting into this business.”
Mounting maintenance costs and overtime pay for employees, $100,000 last year at Hopemont alone, are expenses that are becoming unaffordable Crouch explained.
“We really take a population that no one else will take. The intent on this plan is to try to build a facility to replace, in every area of the state we have a long-term care facility, replace that facility with another facility and privatize those.”
A study from 2010-2012 suggested if the state replaced Hopemont it would cost $14.6 million. The annual cost per patient is $94,000. Crouch said private companies could provide care for about $85,000 a year.
Whether a for-profit or non-profit agency would purchase Hopemont, Crouch said he would expect a continued presence in the region.
The buyer would “build a new facility, move those residents into the new facility, hire the employees that are there now to take care of those residents and take over that responsibility from the State of West Virginia.”
Hopemont has 183 employee positions. Of those, 107 positions are filled.