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Valley HealthCare responds to criticism

KINGWOOD — Recent claims about excessive wait times for mental health care at Valley HealthCare System are exaggerated.

That’s according to CEO Brian Sharp, who contacted The Dominion Post after an article was published in which Susan Hooten, a concerned Preston County resident who approached the Preston County Commission to ask for help with increasing mental health care access in the county, claimed there was a six-month wait for care at Valley.

“The first thing I did after I saw the article is I went to my admissions director,” Sharp said.

She said if a Prestonian came in seeking help on a Friday afternoon, it could be as late as Monday morning. Otherwise, by visiting the walk-in clinic, a patient is generally seen the same day if it’s before noon and the next day if after, Sharp said.

“When can I see a therapist?” Sharp asked. “She said, worst case, one to two weeks. When do I see a doctor? She said ‘the last person who called and needed to see the doctor, we got him in three days. That was a little unusual — it also could run one to two weeks.’”

If there is evidence of a six-month wait, Sharp said, he wants to know it so he can make sure the problem never happens again.

With the rise of telehealth brought on by COVID-19, psychiatry appointments wait times are shorter than ever, Sharp said. Even so, Valley is working to hire an additional nurse practitioner and an additional psychiatrist.

Before COVID, hiring wasn’t a problem. Now it’s a national problem and Sharp said Valley has had large increases in pay rates for hiring and current employees.

Sharp said he hasn’t been invited to a stakeholder meeting planned for April to discuss improving mental health care in Preston County, but he would like to attend.

“Not  just me, Valley in general wants to have a great relationship with Preston County, the officials and the other people involved,” Sharp said. “If they would like for me to come to their meeting in April, I would love to be there. I’m not going to crash their party, but if they want me to be there, whether to ask questions or to be a support, I would be glad to join.”

Valley doesn’t have to benefit either, Sharp said. 

“Our shortened mission statement is quality of care for quality of life … and that’s what we’re shooting for,” Sharp said. “And we can’t do all of that. So we’ll help other people help.”

Another criticism leveled at Valley in the previous article was by Preston’s Circuit Court Judge Steven Shaffer who said mental hygiene evaluations can take forever.

Sharp said there was a week where options for the phone system were changed and pressing 1, which for years connected to a crisis worker, went to the nurse’s station instead. In one instance, it took 17 hours to respond. The problem, once discovered, was corrected and never should have happened. The average wait is a bit over six hours, which includes travel time from Morgantown.

The judge decided to allow mental hygiene appointments to be conducted through telemedicine, which Sharp said he expects will cut about an hour from the response time. Sharp said he thought there might be equipment problems and he was willing to donate a laptop, wifi card or other equipment to the court permanently to get things going.

Shaffer told The Dominion Post on Friday he decided to allow mental hygiene appointments via telemedicine to accommodate those involved in the process and because courts need to keep up with technology.

He was able to secure a laptop from the state supreme court for the magistrates, who hold the hearings, to use. However, none have been done through video yet.

“Well, right now we have a laptop that can be used for those. And I think just as we would work on it, and try to get the kinks out of it, you know, and get it rolling smoothly would be the thing down the road, we might need some more technology,” Shaffer said. “But you know, starting off, we just got to get this rolling.”

Shaffer said a TV in the conference room where mental hygiene cases are heard — in the sheriff’s office next to circuit and magistrate courts — could be useful.

Sharp said he was willing to provide that and since Valley has been installing TVs lately, he knows exactly what that would cost — about $800 for a 65-inch TV and mounting bracket. His budget is much more flexible for purchases like that than a county’s would be.

“We save that probably in two months of not having to drive back and forth where the clinician could be billing instead … and more importantly, the clinical time and the time of the officers,” Sharp said. 

Sharp said it’s fair to say he will be working with the court on getting video mental hygiene hearings going.

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