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Kanawha-Charleston Health Department administrator to head Putnam health department

By Candace Nelson

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- A Kanawha-Charleston Health Department administrator has been appointed to head the Putnam County Health Department until further notice in light of recent financial crisis, officials announced in an emergency meeting Thursday.

Lolita Kirk, the director of administration at Kanawha-Charleston Health Department for the past seven years, will also serve as the senior interim administrator for Putnam County Health Department effective immediately. Kirk has been in public health for 26 years

"My board has been generous enough to allow me to work a couple days per week -- possibly more -- just so I can try and get them back on track again," Kirk said. "Determine what their funding needs are, establish financial polices and procedures, things of that nature."

The Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health offered their help to Putnam County's health department after Putnam County's financial trouble has come to the surface in recent months.

"We have volunteered to help them as a neighbor should help a neighbor," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha County Health Department.

"We will do a financial assessment, an organizational assessment and go to the drawing board. If a patient comes in ... first, you stop the bleeding, resuscitate and make sure the patient lives. ... We will assess how much we need. Is it more than $186,000? Less than $186,000? See where the bleeding is, put a tourniquet there, without trying to cut services."

Commissioner Joe Haynes, who is a Putnam County Board of Health member, said the trouble stems from a prolonged legal dispute with an employee and excessive clinical services beyond community demand.

The Putnam County Health Department filed an application with the state health department for $186,000 in funding for expenses, but it had to withdraw the application when the state requested additional details with the application deadline looming just a few days later.

The largest chunk of unpaid bills is $80,000 in rent and "associated shared costs," according to officials. The department moved into a new, larger facility in Teays Valley in 2010 in hopes of expanding its services. Instead, the department spent $38,000 in attorney fees fighting a legal battle with a former employee who sued for wrongful termination in 2010 and was reinstated in 2011.

Other unpaid expenses include $36,513 in vaccine costs, $18,000 in federal taxes, $8,570 in state taxes, and $4,513.31 to the state office of technology. The Putnam County Commission is also loaning the department $30,000 to cover necessary, immediate expenses.

"Once Ms. Kirk is able to review the Health Department's finances, she will report her findings to Putnam County Board of Health," Haynes said. "If it is determined by the Putnam County Board of Health that emergency aid is needed, then an application will be submitted to the state."

Joel McKinney, who took over as administrator of the Putnam County Health Department in February after Jackie Fleshman resigned, initially discovered the financial shortfall. McKinney will remain in his current position and will report to Kirk. No other staff shuffling is expected at this time.

"We want Lita to find out, report to us, and we'll fix it," Haynes said. "We're not merging two health departments here. As far as policy, that is unchanged. This is strictly an administrative function. We need to get back to serving the public the way a health department is supposed to serve a public."

Kirk said what is paramount to the health department is continuing to offer services.

"The one thing you don't want to do -- You don't ever want to cut services to the public," Kirk said.

"There may be cost-saving measures. You may be able to negotiate with your vendors, negotiate with the people you owe money, or perhaps, the ask accountant ... where can I save? What do you see are our major costs? Some things you have to pay -- you have to pay your employees, you have to pay your rent. You have to keep the lights on. At the same time, services can't be cut."

Dr. Sam Henson, the medical director of the Putnam County Health Department, said there have not been cuts to service, except for some costly, short shelf-life injections that the department must pay itself -- such as the injection for shingles.

Henson said most shots are supplied by the state, except for a few injections.

"My job is to restore financial stability to the agency," Kirk said. "I believe it's achievable. You have to start and see where the problems are. It can be bigger than what you think. It can be smaller than what you think. Until I have a chance to go through, it's going to be hard to predict, really. I think it's fixable." Contact writer Candace Nelson at Candace.Nelson@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/Candace07


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