CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates Health Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday and on its agenda is a bill that apparently will propose getting the state out of the nursing home/hospital business.
The bill, set to be originated by the Health Committee, is titled ‘Closure of Certain State Facilities.’
Exact details of the bill have not been released but Health Committee Chairman Jeff Pack hinted earlier this week the committee would take up the bill.
The bill is not from the state Department of Health and Human Resources but DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch is on record that he believes the state shouldn’t be operating health care facilities.
Back in the 2017 session, Crouch’s first as DHHR secretary, he proposed privatizing four state hospitals. The House of Delegates approved a bill to sell Hopemont Hospital in Preston County but the measure did not gain final approval.
Crouch was asked about the situation at state-run hospitals and nursing homes when he appeared before the House Finance Committee earlier this week. He said he still believes the state is not the best provider of direct services.
“We should be a safety net for people who need our care and where necessary a regulatory agency,” Crouch said. “I have always believed we should do something with those facilities and that doesn’t include the state running those.”
Crouch said the state isn’t nimble when it comes to hiring personnel and completing purchasing like the private sector.
“We aren’t able to move quickly as the private sector, sometimes it takes two or three months to bring someone on board,” he said.
The state owns and operates nursing homes at Hopemont, Jackie Withrow in Beckley and Lakin in Mason County.
State-run nursing homes in Fairmont (John Manchin Jr.) and Welch also offer outpatient and acute care services.
The state operates two psychiatric hospitals; Mildred Bateman in Huntington and Sharpe Hospital in Weston.
The Sharpe building was built in 1990 and is the newest building. The Manchin facility was built in 1899, Welch in 1902, Hopemont in 1913, Lakin in 1926, Withrow in 1927 and Bateman in 1950.
Crouch said the state would have to sell the licensed beds. He said no one would buy the buildings.
“If we were to sell the business, which would be the licensed beds, then they would have to provide the capital, to build a new building to operate that business,” Crouch said.
The seven facilities are currently licensed for 844 patients but the overall patient census is just more half that at 469 patients. Crouch said the facilities, particularly the nursing homes, wouldn’t be very attractive to buyers at the current time.
“With the census we have, that’s not a number that anyone is going to say it would be a viable business. You need about 80 patients in a nursing home to make it viable,” Crouch said.
There are also problems in keeping the facilities fully-staffed. Crouch said the state has a tough time competing with other facilities. He said the state has had to go through staffing agencies to fill positions and pay a high price for those workers.
But Crouch told the finance committee any discussion about selling the homes shouldn’t be construed as criticism of the state workers there.
“They do a tremendous job. They’re hard workers and have been loyal to the state of West Virginia and I want to praise them for what they do,” Crouch said.
The House Health Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Thursday.