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Board votes to expand restaurant rating system

The Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health unanimously voted Thursday evening to expand its new, three-tiered restaurant rating system countywide and post sanitarians' reports online.

Beginning last summer, businesses in South Charleston and along Corridor G were part of a pilot program to test the system, which ranks restaurants and other establishments as either "excellent," "good" or "fair" depending on how many health code violations they receive.

That system will now expand to all businesses in the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department's jurisdiction.

Starting Feb. 1, every inspection since last July will be available online. Then, on Feb. 7, each new health inspection will be available at www.kchdwv.org the moment it is completed.

Postings after Feb. 7 also will feature color-coded banners indicating which rating restaurants received.

The health board also approved a special "gold star" award for restaurants that do not have any critical violations and very few non-critical violations.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, health department executive director, previously expressed concerns the rating system was unfair. He worried that a restaurant with multiple violations could simply fix the problems once health inspectors arrived and then receive the same rating as one with no violations at all.

While sanitarians record each violation they find, only those that remain after they leave a business count against the rating.

Gupta said the gold star program rewards restaurants that run a tight ship, even when the health department isn't knocking on their door.

He said the department likely would create a special certificate for businesses that maintain their gold star rating over several inspections to further recognize the area's cleanest restaurants.

Nasadra Wright, sanitarian supervisor for the health department, said the new rating system has been a success. She said businesses have contacted the department to arrange for special training to help them better comply with health codes.

In other business, Gupta said the health department needs to find other sources of revenue to supplement its HIV testing program.

State health departments no longer receive federal reimbursements for HIV testing and counseling services, following cuts in the Centers for Disease Control's budget.

 Health departments previously were reimbursed $30 for each positive HIV test and $20 for each negative test to cover personnel costs. Those payments stopped after Dec. 31, 2012.

Gupta said his health department would lose around $20,000 a year now that the reimbursements have stopped. The department already supplemented its testing program at about $40,000 a year, taken from its general funds.

Gupta told the Daily Mail on Wednesday the department might have to cut back the number of days it performs tests. The health department currently offers HIV tests from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

He told health board members he is hesitant to cut hours, however, for fear of losing patients.

"That one person . . . because of their high-risk behavior, we will have an exponential rise in HIV cases in years to come," he said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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