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Hopemont Hospital among those to close, if bill passes

KINGWOOD – House Bill 2626 was introduced last week by the House of Delegates Health and Human Resources Committee in an effort to close four state-owned hospitals, one of which is Hopemont Hospital in Terra Alta.

“No one had any prior knowledge of the bill until it was presented in a Republican Caucus about 20 minutes before it was voted out of the committee,” Delegate Buck Jenkins, R-Preston, said Thursday.

He said Hopemont Hospital in Terra Alta, Lakin Hospital in Mason County, John Manchin Sr. Hospital in Fairmont  and Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley will all close Jan. 1, 2022, if the bill passes.

According to the bill, “the age of the facilities results in continuous costly repairs and upgrades to ensure the safety of residents. The cost for utilities, building maintenance and repairs, and payroll costs are not sustainable.”

Hopemont Hospital is a 98-bed licensed Medicare-certified long-term care facility in Terra Alta.  It was originally developed to care for West Virginia citizens with tuberculosis.  In 1995 the 35-bed uncertified personal care area of the hospital was closed.  The remaining 98-bed certified personal care area remained open for use by long-term care patients.

“I fight every year to keep Hopemont open,” Jennings said. “This year it’s going to be an uphill battle.”

Delegate Terri Sypolt, R-Preston, said she is also going to fight to keep it open.

“I’m going to ask for an amendment to take Hopemont out of the bill,” she said. “We’re a rural county, our  employees don’t have the job options workers in Beckley or Fairmont have.”

Sypolt was referring to section (e) of the bill, which reads: “State employees shall be offered to transfer to another position within state government that they are otherwise qualified for at the same rate of pay and benefits that they are currently receiving. If the employee does not transfer, that employee shall receive a severance package, which includes their current salary and benefits for one year. The Division of Personnel and the Department of the Health and Human Resources shall ensure this transition occurs in a timely and seamless manner to minimize the effects on employees.”

Sypolt said the closing of the facility will also affect the town of Terra Alta.  She said the hospital is one of the town’s biggest water and sewerage users.

Jennings said another question that needs to be answered is where do the patients go? Sypolt said in 2020 there was a daily average of 48 patients.

“There are a lot of patients at Hopemont that wouldn’t be accepted in a regular nursing home,” Jennings said. “Some have behavioral problems.  If the hospital closes no one can give me an answer about where they will go.

“I don’t know why every year they want to get rid of it,” he said. “I visited Hopemont. It was clean and looked as if it was a well-run facility.”

Preston County Commissioner Dave Price said Thursday, he had just heard about the bill.

“I have a lot of questions,” he said.  We (commissioners) will talk to our senators and delegates between now and our next meeting. We’ll have (County Administrator Kathy Mace) put it on the next agenda.”

He said he would like to know what the state plans to do with the property.

“Are they going to maintain it or let it go to ruin? I’ve heard nothing official,” he said. “I believe we should know what their plans are. I believe they know we’ll resist.”