Marion County lawmaker opposes privatization of state-run health facilities; state hiring new workers

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Marion County Delegate Joey Garcia said he has concerns about what direction state leaders might take with state-run hospitals.

Joey Garcia

Members of a state legislature oversight committee have been touring the facilities in recent months. Garcia has been taking part too.

“One of the reasons I wanted to make sure I was there even though I’m not a member of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability Committee (LOCHRA) is to advocate to make sure this state-run facility continues to operate as it is to help some of the most vulnerable residents of West Virginia,” Garcia said.

Garcia, R-Marion, said every year since 2001, with the exception of this past year, the Department of Health and Human Resources has backed a bill to close the facilities. Many residents in state-run facilities are considered high-risk and in many cases require a level of care not offered by a private provider.

“As a the state of West Virginia we should have a value that we are taking care of the most vulnerable and not letting them slip through the cracks,” Garcia said. “I don’t know that a private institution would do what we do as a state to make sure these people are cared for.”

Previous DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch pushed for the privatization of the facilities several times in the early years of the Justice administration but that hasn’t been a stated priority of the agency in the last few years. In fact, state Department of Health Facilities announced last week it had recently hired more than 80 new employees to work in state-operated facilities.

The committee recently visited Hopemont State Hospital in Terra Alta and the John Manchin Health Care Center in Fairmont.

Amy Summers

Committee co-chair, Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, said she and other delegates want to get a feel not only for how people are treated at the facilities, but also whether the facilities’ structures hold up.

“These buildings are very, very old,” Summers said last week on MetroNews “Talkline.” “These nursing homes are old, and they need to be replaced — and the only way I think to convince people of that is to let them actually see the infrastructure.”

Earlier this year, she said, lawmakers visited Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley.

Garcia said some of the problems discovered during the LOCHRA visits could be the consequences of years of flat budgets. Instead of going private he said a new facility may need to be built and investments should be made in the existing properties.

“If you haven’t funded something appropriately and you do it right, money can fix it,” Garcia said. “That’s where I was very impressed at the state of the facility, the workers there, and the type of care those residents are getting.”

Transferring the responsibility of care to a for-profit company from the state system could come with cost savings at the expense of the residents and families, Garcia believes.

“That’s so important for the dignity of people,” Garcia said. “That’s something we have to think about. We can’t just push this down to a dollars and cents decision, and that’s what a lot of state decisions come down to.”

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