BECKLEY — Patients and staff expressed concern over a bill en route to the governor’s desk that would allow the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources to sell Jackie Withrow Hospital, a state-owned long-term care facility.
Larshella Creasy has been a health services worker at the hospital for a year. She said she’s not just worried about her children and paying the bills, but she thinks the patients could suffer from a sale.
“A lot of these residents here aren’t just disabled, but they’re mentally incapable,” she said. “They’re putting other nursing home facilities in danger because our residents are not able to just go to a normal nursing home. We as employees have been hit, we have been spit on, but it’s not [the patients’] fault, because they mentally don’t know any better.”
There are more than 80 patients at the hospital, some of whom have psychiatric and behavioral disorders, intellectual and developmental injuries, combative behaviors and other high-acuity conditions requiring intensive levels of care.
The bill gives DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch the ability to divest from the facility, though it requires him to transfer patients to another facility within 5 miles that specializes in long-term care residents.
It also requires the DHHR to work with the Division of Personnel and the Consolidated Public Retirement Board to prepare a benefit package to laid-off hospital employees, those who retire or those hired by the successor company of the hospital.
Since 1978, David Mays has been an employee of Jackie Withrow Hospital and is currently the housekeeping supervisor. He said he’s worried about what will happen to the patients.
“I hate to see them go, I really do, I love these people, man, they’re like our family,” he said. “It’s like losing your family, and I think about that all the time. It’s hard to see what’s happening to them.”
Along with the patients, Mays is worried about his paychecks. At 58, he said he isn’t quite ready to retire and isn’t sure what he’d do if the hospital were to find a buyer. He said he’s worried about his own job and questioned legislators’ priorities in Charleston.
“They can save a dog track, but they can’t save these people’s homes. I think that’s terrible, I really do,” he said in reference to the governor’s decision to preserve subsidies on greyhound breeding for dog racing.
“I’m worried about a job, and I’m worrying about everybody else’s job,” Mays said. “When we voted these people in, they said they were here to make jobs, not take jobs. They’re taking jobs. How do they expect these people to live?”
In a statement issued through a department spokeswoman, Crouch said the state should not be in the direct care business, and the sale will yield higher salaries for employees in the private sector and better living conditions for patients.
Crouch also said the bill will help the community, because it could bring construction jobs into the area and bring in new tax revenues.
“I have always viewed this project as a win for everyone involved, but most of all it provides a new modern facility for the residents we are responsible for protecting and caring for,” he said.
A hospital switchboard operator for the past 14 years, Nola Lilly, 50, organized a small employee rally Monday to call on Gov. Jim Justice to veto the bill. She said, among other concerns, legislators and state officials haven’t cared to spend much time on the campus seeing what things are like first hand.
She said Crouch came, spoke to the administrator for 15 minutes and left without talking to patients and lower-level employees.
Angela Booker, CEO of the hospital, said Crouch has visited once, though she declined to comment whether it had been a long or thorough visit.
Booker added that, to her knowledge, Crouch does not have a buyer in mind, and employees and patients will stay with the hospital until a deal is finalized, assuming Justice signs the bill.
Sherri Casto, 53, has been a patient at Jackie Withrow for six years. She said the hospital is her home, its staff her family, and she doesn’t want to leave.
“I want to stay here,” she said. “They care a lot about you, and they help you out the best way they know how. ... I got family, but they don’t want nothing to do with me. I’ve got family here. This is my family.”
The bill to sell the hospital passed through the Senate with a 15-12 vote, and through the House with a 53-34 vote.
A similar bill allowing the DHHR secretary to sell Hopemont Hospital, in Terra Alta, made it onto Justice’s special session call, though it died in committee.
A spokesman for Justice did not respond to inquiries regarding whether the governor will sign or veto the bill.
Reach Jake Zuckerman at 304-348-4814,
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