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Smith: The governor is sitting on over $1B, we’ve gotten a check for $11.84

MORGANTOWN — The Monongalia County Health Department has thus far received one check totaling $11.84 from the state for COVID-19 relief despite the department being in financial “free fall” due to its efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

This according to MCHD Executive Director Lee Smith, who said he has growing concerns about the state’s ability to get relief funding pushed out to the counties.

“The governor is sitting on over $1 billion. We’ve gotten a check for $11.84. We’ve been promised a check for $63,000 coming this year and then again in the next fiscal year, but as you can see, we’re in free fall financially and we don’t have the ability to open up clinics and make the money that keeps us afloat,” Smith said Thursday during the monthly meeting of the Monongalia County Board of Health.

While Smith noted it’s not uncommon for MCHD to be in the red in winter months, the department generated just $784 in revenue in February, then went into the negative $38,084 in March and an additional $46,408 in April.

Chief Financial Officer Anthony DeFelice said those numbers are tied more to the loss of revenue from the closure of the various services at MCHD — dental clinic, environmental health, nursing services —  than additional expenditures incurred.

It’s expected that trend could continue into May as COVID-19 efforts remain in place. Over this past weekend, the department spearheaded the testing of 999 people across three locations. While there were no positive cases, the effort racked up about $15,000 in expenses outside of the tests, which were provided.

Board member Keith Zullig pointed out that  the reopening of the state doesn’t mean COVID-19, or its financial impacts, are going away.

Smith agreed.

“We’re not out of the woods at all. We have not seen the end of this. How long it will last is anybody’s guess. We’re all in uncharted seas,” Smith said, noting the CDC is now recommending states – read: counties – test 2% of their populations each month — roughly 2,100 people for Monongalia County.

Unfair expectations, he said, considering public health in West Virginia has undergone a  decade of atrophy following the H1N1outbreak of 2010.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of public health employees in the state fell from 800-plus to 500. Budget cuts initiated by former State Health Officer Rahul Gupta trimmed that number further, to about 400 in 48 health departments covering 55 counties.

Thirty of the state’s health departments have five or fewer employees. He pointed to Logan County as an example, with one full time and one part time employee.

“If you don’t support public health in a means that allows them to stand up, you shouldn’t be shocked at what happens,” Smith said.

“We’re happy to do the work, but we need to make sure we can continue to do that work. We’d like to have some mechanisms to have an opportunity to get some of that funding. I don’t want a handout. I want to be recognized for the work that we’re doing.”

DeFelice said the department is awaiting word from the state regarding a grant to offset the department’s lost revenue. He went on to say MCHD is also working with the Monongalia County Commission to secure relief funds.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, the board passed a $5,211,783 budget for the 2021 fiscal year.

However, given the ongoing uncertainty of the situation locally and across the globe, those figures could change.

“From here out, it’s just reading tea leaves,” Smith said.

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