CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As they scramble to get control of a financial crisis, Putnam County Health Department officials say there is blame to be shared for the situation.
Board of health members voted one week ago to lay off the department's entire staff of 12 employees. In an emergency meeting, board members also decided to enter a six-month contract with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to continue providing services. Putnam's yearly $414,000 state allotment will fund that contract.
The Putnam County Health Department also has vacated its new facility in search of less expensive space.
The financial woes stem in part from the decision to move into the larger facility in 2010, said Lolita Kirk, senior interim administrator. At the time, officials hoped the larger facility would enable them to expand services.
"The lease for the facility was more than the department could cover," Kirk said.
She was recently appointed to the position to iron out the department's finances. Kirk also has served as director of administration at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department for seven years.
The building was vacated last Friday with the help of the Putnam County Commission, Kirk said. She's trying to find a new location to open and start offering services.
Kanawha-Charleston has a sanitarian in the field performing inspections in Putnam County, and patient appointments are being made at the Charleston headquarters, she said.
Kirk hopes to have a new location selected as soon as possible.
"I have three or four more calls to make and I'm still following up. I would love to have something temporary to work out of by the end of the week - I don't know if that will be successful or not," Kirk said.
The Putnam County Board of Health will manage who will take over the lease and manage what to do with the previous space.
Kirk also will soon send position descriptions to the state Division of Personnel. She needs four people to handle sanitarian, nursing and clerical work.
"I don't truly know what the workload is going to be, so we're just doing four at first," she said. She said the jobs should be posted by next Monday.
State agencies often give priority to hiring workers who have been laid off by other state agencies, so Kanawha-Charleston could hire some of Putnam's laid-off employees, she said.
The health department also cites legal fees it paid to fight an employee grievance as contributing to the current mess. A former sanitarian filed a grievance for wrongful termination in 2010 and was reinstated in 2011. An appeal was then filed in Circuit Court.
The legal fees, which totaled more than $100,000, were higher than any Kirk had ever seen in her career.
Although he said blame for the financial crisis falls on many shoulders, Putnam County Commissioner and former health board member Joe Haynes also said former administrator Jackie Fleshman paid the legal fees before anything else.
"Other thing that hurt us in the previous administration is the way they prioritized the bill paying. The legal fees from a personnel matter got completely out of hand before the board was made aware," he said.
"That left us with a huge legal bill. The former administrator decided to pay those legal fees before she paid those day-to-day things - like rent and things like that.
"The board wasn't really aware that was going on before the administrator left, and a new one came in, and we found those irregularities."
Haynes left his position on the board on June 30 - a year early. The decision was made in November so that Haynes and Commissioner Andy Skidmore could get experience on different boards.
"We all serve on different boards, and we discussed to see who had interest in what and that sort of thing," Haynes said. "We agreed that I would leave Health and Transportation, and he would take those two. And I would take his Solid Waste and Work Force Investment"