CHARLESTON – A bill to repurpose and possibly privatize Hopemont Hospital in Terra Alta is once again working its way through the Legislature. Its lead sponsor and another Preston delegate are not yet satisfied it protects the hospital’s resident patients or staff.
A revamped version of HB 2347 cleared the House Health and Human Resources committee on Jan. 17. Work on it began at a previous meeting and wrapped up Thursday with several amendments packaged into one.
The bill affects Hopemont and Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley, a long-term care state hospital like Hopemont.
As it passed out of Health, it says that by July 1, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Resources will plan and contract for either the modernization of Hopemont or construction of a new facility to bear the same name.
In either case, Hopemont will have 98 beds – its current bed count – and it will be up to the DHHR secretary to decide how to allot them among four patient categories: long-term care, traumatic brain injury, inpatient substance abuse and outpatient substance abuse. It must also have adequate space for community outpatient substance abuse treatment.
It requires the secretary to hire enough full-time employees who are trained in long-term care and substance abuse treatment to keep it fully staffed around the clock.
This bill is substantially different from the 2017 Hopemont bill, HB 3102, which passed both chambers but died on the last day of the session on disagreement over some amendments.
The final version of HB 3102 directed DHHR to sell Hopemont, but assure that a privately owned replacement facility of at least 60 beds would be built on the grounds and be operated to serve the variety of conditions of Hopemont residents. Any unused beds would be de-licensed, decertified and not transferred to any other facility.
It created a Hopemont Long Term Care Facility Development Fund to receive the money from the sale of the facility. The fund would be used to provide severance packages for Hopemont employees, including any lost retirement contributions. The package could include retraining and placement on a preferred list for state jobs.
DHHR has pushed to sell all four state hospitals for years because they’re old, deteriorated, expensive to maintain and pose risks to the resident patients. Preston-area legislators opposed the sale of Hopemont without the protections for residents and staff embedded in HB 3102, none of which appear in HB 2347.
Delegate Terri Sypolt, R-Preston, was among those who worked in 2017 to amend in the protections and attended Thursday’s meeting to watch the deliberations. With some help from Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia and a member of Health, she is working on an amendment to present either in Finance – its next stop—or on the House floor, or in the Senate if that fails.
After the meeting she said, “I am very pleased that they’re thinking about building a new hospital, and I will be more pleased if they keep it as a state hospital.”
Referring to her planned amendment, she said, “I don’t think the bill is strong enough; I think it’s too vague; and I don’t think it protects the patients or the employees the way it’s written.”
While the bill doesn’t reference privatizing it, it also doesn’t preclude it; and Sypolt noted that DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch referred to privatizing it during the meeting.
Lead sponsor Buck Jennings, also R-Preston, wasn’t at the meeting but shares an office with Sypolt. He said, “Our biggest concern, first off, is the patients of Hopemont.
“They’re special people,” he said, which is something Crouch and others have noted. Many of them have no other family and many are psychiatric patients the private sector doesn’t want to care for. “That is our responsibility to take of.”
Hopemont provides 107 jobs for the 48 patients, he said. “They are our people. … We want to make sure that those jobs stay there for those people and hopefully that they’re state employees with state benefits.”
Employees are frustrated with the uncertainty of the annual talks of selling Hopemont, he said, and not knowing if they’ll have jobs.
“I want this to get over with one way or another so they can make permanent plans,” Jennings said. “
Once we get that done, I feel that that will inspire that area of Preston County to where it can grow. Because it’s a gorgeous place. It has a lot of things going fo
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