Putnam health board renews service contract with Kanawha-Charleston Department

WINFIELD -- The Putnam County Board of Health approved a contract on Thursday for Kanawha-Charleston Health Department employees to provide it services for an additional year, effective July 1.

Andy Skidmore, a county commissioner and member of the health board, said the Putnam Health Department started its first contract with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department on July 1 of last year, following the board’s vote to lay off its entire staff about a week earlier amid mounting financial problems. Those problems partly stemmed from a costly, and unsuccessful, legal battle with a former employee over her firing.

The board renewed the initial six-month contract for another six months, and on Thursday it extended the contract to a year, the maximum time period the board can commit to at once, Skidmore said.

Lolita Kirk, director of administrative services for both health departments, said the Putnam department is paying about $700,000 of its funding -- derived from state money, service fees and grants -- to the Kanawha-Charleston department to receive the services. County health departments provide clinic services for patients and do restaurant and safety inspections, among other responsibilities.

Skidmore said the county commission is providing the rest of the funding for the Putnam department by paying down its debt. The county is budgeted to spend $125,000 on the department’s debt in the upcoming fiscal year. Kirk said it has about $200,000 left in debt, about half of what it was, though Skidmore said the number is closer to $150,000.

Officials said the contract isn’t much different from the previous ones. The Putnam Board of Health still has decision-making power for the county’s department, Skidmore said.

Skidmore and Steve Andes, the two county commissioners who weren’t also on the Putnam Board of Health when the department folded, have said the department is operating better than ever with Kanawha-Charleston’s help.

For instance, Keith Lyons, a sanitarian with the Putnam department, said in April the department had done almost 400 restaurant inspections in the nine months he’s been there, up from the around 200 it was doing annually before it folded and Kanawha-Charleston employees like Lyons stepped in. He said the inspections are now being done at the state-mandated rate of every six months.

When asked how long Putnam will extend its contract with Kanawha-Charleston, or whether he would support the status quo indefinitely, Skidmore said that would be up to the two departments’ boards.

“In my personal opinion, it’s been a great merger at this point,” he said. “I’m very happy with the way Kanawha-Charleston has conducted business here in Putnam County.”

He said he doesn’t know at this point whether he’d be in favor of a permanent merger.

By Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1254.

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