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Kanawha health department cuts clerical positions in clinic

Brenda Isaac

The Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health voted unanimously Thursday to cut the health department’s full-time workforce by about 15 percent, eliminating all clerical positions in the clinic division.

The board voted to cut five jobs, bringing the number of full-time employees from 39 to 34. Health care providers at the health department will take over clerical work in the clinic division.

John Law, spokesman for the health department, attributed the layoffs to “declining funding sources, lessening patient load and automation of patient records.”

Brenda Isaac, president of the board, noted that medical assistants are trained, while receiving their degrees, to perform administrative tasks.

She noted that the health department’s electronic records system includes automated billing, and that they have a kiosk for patient check-ins.

“We no longer need to have a person doing that,” she said, adding that the board made the decision “with a heavy heart.”

Two of the employees losing their jobs attended the Thursday afternoon meeting. They said they had more than 20 years experience between them and had hoped to retire from their positions. The average tenure is about 14 years, Law said.

“I was really hoping to retire from here,” said Juanita Whittaker, one of those losing her job. “I have a year and a half before I’m 55 ... but I know it’s not about me. It’s about the department and keeping things running. I don’t see how you take out all the clerks. That leaves a medical assistant and a few nurses. I don’t see how that small of a staff is going to be able to handle the clerical part and the nursing part, the billing part. I don’t see how that staff is going to be able to keep a clinic running.”

“It’s definitely going to cause a lot of realignment,” Isaac responded.

During the 2016-17 fiscal year, the health department saw a $410,000 reduction in state funding, Law said.

Income from off-site clinics for flu vaccinations declined by 23 percent, from $334,000 to $221,000, over the past four years, he said.

“You can get those at your neighborhood pharmacy,” Isaac added.

Law also noted that the health department transitioned in February to an electronic records system, which “streamlined billing and greatly reduced the need for clerical support.”

“The reduction in force allows KCHD to avoid a $232,000 deficit for the 2017-2018 fiscal year,” he said in a statement. “The savings generated include $150,000 in salaries and $82,000 in benefits.”

If the State Personnel Board approves the layoffs, the employees’ last day would be June 30.

The health department will continue to provide clinical services, Law said. Those services include blood pressure checks, breast and cervical cancer screening, family planning, flu shots, immunizations, lice treatment, tuberculosis testing and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, according to the health department’s website.

Law said the health department would cover the cost of insurance for laid-off employees for 90 days, and pay for all accumulated annual leave.

He said the State Personnel Board probably would consider whether to grant the request at its June meeting.

Reach Erin Beck at erin.beck@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5163, Facebook.com/erinbeckwv, or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.

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