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Putnam slashes controversial policy

By Candace Nelson

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Putnam County's controversial rabies policy is no more.

Board of Health members voted Monday to adopt the state's policy rather than follow the stricter policy that was in place previously. Opponents said it led to the death of several residents' beloved pets.

The former policy required any animal that bit a person to be quarantined for 10 days in the county animal shelter or other approved veterinary office at the owner's expense.

The state standard allows pet owners to quarantine animals in their home. Putnam was the only county to require quarantines outside of the home.

The policy was a driving force behind a legal battle with a former sanitarian, which contributed to the health department's financial downfall.

Barbara Koblinsky, 52, was first fired in February 2010 after about two years with the health department. As a sanitarian, it was her job to enforce the strict policy.

She started a petition for its removal and said her work against the policy eventually cost her the job, though former health department officials said repeatedly she was fired for insubordination.

"... While (former administrator Jackie) Fleshman's rabies policy is removed, there have been many people who have been harmed, and many pets that have been taken and needlessly sacrificed under these policies," Koblinsky said in an email.

"No one has apologized to these pet owners, many of whom are left feeling the guilt that they caused their pet to die. I believe what has occurred is 'criminal,' and my heart breaks for these people because I know how much I love my own pets.

"What a shame this has been allowed to happen. I can only hope it doesn't happen again," she said.

She filed a grievance and won her job back in late 2010, but the health department's administration appealed the ruling in Circuit Court. Recently, Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom reinstated Koblinsky to her former position.

Board members have not commented on whether they plan to appeal.

The Board of Health voted to lay off its entire staff and contract services through the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department in June.

Lolita Kirk was appointed as administrator to iron out the financial issues. She also is the director of administration at Kanawha-Charleston, a position she has held for seven years.

At the recommendation of Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kanawha-Charleston executive director, the board chose to adopt the state rabies policy, as well as a communications and obligations/purchasing policy.

"They were just policies that need to be in place," County Commissioner and board member Andy Skidmore said. 

The board also voted to create sub-committees for audit, finance and by-laws.

In other news:

*The health department's new headquarters will be at 3282 Winfield Road. Kirk said she hopes to open the doors Sept. 15 and begin providing clinical services.

Kirk is interviewing for the five open positions: two sanitarians, one medical assistant, a clerical position and one epidemiology/emergency preparedness position.

The approximate rent for the space is $1,600 per month.

*Putnam Sgt. Ryan Lockhart resigned as Board of Health chairman. He cited a lack of time to devote to the board; he will remain a member.

"I work 10 hours a day, and the duties I have at work conflict with the timeframes I need to have available as a board chair. I can't ethically do things for the Board of Health while I am working as the deputy sheriff. So I've been having to take vacation time in order to get chair duties done," he said.

Skidmore made a motion to elect attorney Bryan Escue chairman.

"He seems pretty astute. Since he's been a member, he's been reviewing the policies, and I think he's a good lead for this board," Skidmore said.

Escue, Skidmore and Michael Keiffer were appointed to the board in July. They joined members Lockhart and Jim Dillon.

*Anita Ray, director of environmental health services for Kanawha-Charleston, reported one fulltime sanitarian and a part-time contractor completed about 50 inspections since July 1. Only 10 inspections were completed from January to June, she said.

*Walk-in clinics have been successful with more than 1,000 clinical services performed, including hundreds of immunizations. Future clinics are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug 21-22 at the state Department of Health and Human Resources office at 3405 Winfield Road.

Students entering seventh grade are required to show proof of a Tdap booster and meningococcal vaccine. Those entering 12th grade must show proof of a Tdap booster and at least one dose of meningococcal vaccine given after age 16.

Those interested are encouraged to bring all vaccine records, registration form and insurance information.

*The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 3.

Contact writer Candace Nelson at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at


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