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Neighbor's woes affect health department

By Candace Nelson

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is feeling the effects of a neighboring health department in crisis.

Putnam County's Health Department has applied for $186,000 from an emergency fund held by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. It has spent more than $100,000 on legal fees concerning an employee grievance case, a big factor in the financial crisis.

"I know everybody's heard on the news that one of our neighboring health departments is in trouble," Brenda Isaacs, president of Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health, said at Tuesday's meeting.

"I can't say that we're super surprised because we've known for years that we've had issues with them.

"It bothers us because first of all, we want to know that all citizens of West Virginia are getting the services they need to be getting, and secondly, it does affect the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department when a neighboring health department is not able to function adequately.

"We see an increase in patients, and we have to pick up the slack ... it affects us financially when other health departments are not doing their job."

The Kanawha-Charleston department has seen an increase in the volume of patients, according to its executive director, Dr. Rahul Gupta. The department is seeing an increase in use of clinical services as well as vaccinations by patients from Putnam County.

While the Kanawha-Charleston department has not been able to make contact with the Putnam department, it is planning ahead for possible increased wait times and costs.

"I've made contact and left messages. I want to prepare our staff and order extra vaccines if there's an influx, but I haven't heard back," said Lolita Kirk, the director of administrative services.

Gupta did not know whether Putnam County had been turning patients away.

"We have not yet been asked to provide assistance," Gupta said. "But we are ready and willing to help when we are able ... What we do know is that school vaccinations will come up and there are state requirements.

"Those kids in Putnam County will have to go somewhere. If we need to purchase several thousand more, we want to know."

Putnam County's financial trouble may cause other county health departments to sacrifice some state funding, Gupta indicated. State officials withhold 2 percent of funding for local departments for an emergency fund. Counties usually end up receiving most of that money.   

"We are aware through public reports that they've applied for some $186,000 in public funding, so obviously we are not going to get our 2 percent back, but it's not just us. That's most health departments across the state - most health department funding will be limited," Gupta said.

In other news:

  • The health department has created a new operating division. The Division of Wellness & Prevention will encompass the previous health promotion division and the Community Transformation Grant division. It was created in anticipation of the Affordable Care Act.
  • It will focus on prevention of chronic disease management, among other issues. Its goal is to better align services with future health reforms and adhere to the way the health care act is structured. That can help the health department to obtain funding. Sara Fitzwater was appointed acting director.

  • Thomas Sims was hired as the performance management coordinator to help the health department receive national accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board. The health department has applied for a letter of intent. Total fees for the accreditation process will total about $27,000.
  • There are three main components of the accreditation process, and Sims believes the health department has most of the pieces together and is fairly advanced in the process. After assessing the state of the county, seeing how the community can improve and creating a strategic plan, the health department can submit paperwork.

  • Because of a change in the state aid formula, the health department is getting about $31,000 less for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
  • Board members approved a 2 percent across-the-board pay increase for full-time employees.
  • The health department is actively searching for candidates to fill two vacancies: sanitarian and epidemiologist. To apply, contact the health department at 304-344-KCHD (5243).
  • The Roadside Rabies clinic held on April 13 served 200 dogs and 29 cats.
  • Contact writer Candace Nelson at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at


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