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Kanawha Valley Senior Services strives to leave no senior behind during pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic began almost eight months ago, one of the first programs at Kanawha Valley Senior Services to be halted was its adult day center.

In normal years, the program serves families of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, caring for them at the organization’s 600 Florida St. location on Charleston’s West Side.

For seniors, the program keeps their minds busy and allows them to interact with other people. The program is designed to help seniors maintain cognitive abilities, enhance their memory and enjoy life.

For families, the care center serves as a safety net when life becomes overwhelming.

Seniors can be dropped off on weekdays during work hours, with their loved ones knowing they will be safe.

But for Paulette Justice, executive director of Kanawha Valley Senior Services, the program’s closure is just one example of COVID-19’s continued deadly affect on the older population.

“It’s been very sad, because we are aware that some family members — their loved ones have lost cognitive ability, and some have passed away, unfortunately,” Justice said.

The adult day center is just one of many programs offered by Kanawha Valley Senior Services, a nonprofit that has operated in the area since the early 1970s. An estimated 21.2% of Kanawha Countians, or nearly 38,000 people, are older than 65, according to census estimates.

The organization’s goal is to ensure that no senior is left behind.

Financial problems have come and gone throughout the pandemic, Justice said, but the organization has been able to weather them all.

The nonprofit was forced to close its congregate meal program in March, shifting to a grab-and-go system at its community kitchens in Elkview, Rand, Chesapeake, Nitro, St. Albans and on Florida Street.

But the switch to grab-and-go hasn’t offset the significant increases in home-meal deliveries the organization is now responsible for, Justice said.

“For the rest of the folks that can’t come in for grab-and-go, we’ve converted over to home-delivered meals, which is the biggest bulk right now of our meal program,” Justice said.

The nonprofit has provided nearly 3,100 meals a week through its kitchens, Justice said.

The Kanawha County Commission, recognizing the group’s need, paid for one new car for meal deliveries, while the organization has purchased another two. So far, they’ve been able to keep up with the demand, Justice said.

When the meal delivery requests became more than the group could handle, Justice said, Kanawha Valley Senior Services partnered with other local nonprofit and community organizations to make sure those orders didn’t go unfilled.

“The referrals for home-delivered meals keep increasing, and we’re trying to keep that within what we can manage,” Justice said. “You don’t want the routes to get so long that people’s lunch meal becomes their dinner meal because the route is so long.”

The extra grant and government funding that allowed for the increased meal deliveries arrived during the summer, and in good time. With winter months approaching, though, the nonprofit is inching back to where it stood in March, Justice said.

“That’s all been depleted,” she said.

A loan for personal protective equipment came in August, which helped tremendously, Justice said, but that funding is now gone, too. Then there’s the issue of keeping adequate staffing.

“With additional vehicles, there’s a need for more drivers,” Justice said. “It’s been a challenge keeping staff during this time. It’s just very frustrating because, quite frankly, they can make more at McDonald’s than coming here.”

Like most nonprofit organizations nationwide, Kanawha Valley Senior Services is trying to serve more people in need with less money, but not all is bad.

Kanawha Valley Senior Services restarted most of the social services and in-home care services it offers just a few weeks into the pandemic, Justice said.

As families returned to work in May, and with congregate care settings like the adult day center closed, Justice said, in-home care services became vitally important in saving lives.

“That suffered a little bit at first, but it’s now getting back up into the swing of things, because our seniors need that daily support in the home,” she said.

For seniors who need assistance with open enrollment for Medicare, finding medical equipment, food insecurity, personal care or just paying utility bills, Kanawha Valley Senior Service links them with the information or tools they need.

Justice, who’s been with the organization since August 2013, said the pandemic has showcased why a service like this is essential in a region with such a high population of seniors. She said the staff has responded and stepped up to serve the larger community role.

“None of us wants a senior to go hungry or to not have heat in their home,” Justice said.

WV Supreme Court rules private religious schools aren't subject to the state's consumer protection laws

Schools and camps operated by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston aren’t subject to the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The ruling is a significant blow to a lawsuit launched by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in March 2019, when he sued the diocese, alleging the diocese didn’t conduct background checks, despite advertising that it did so, and knowingly employed priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse at Catholic schools and a camp owned and managed by the diocese.

In the broader ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that no part of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act could apply to religious schools or camps. The court ruled 4-1, with Justice Margaret Workman being the dissenting vote.

In its ruling, the court said the Consumer Credit and Protection Act is in conflict with a 1983 law that establishes operational parameters for religious schools. That law includes language that says, as long as religious schools meet those standards, then they aren’t subject to any other laws, with the exception of laws pertaining to fire, safety, sanitation and immunization.

In the majority’s opinion, Justice Beth Walker noted that the attorney general’s allegations against the diocese were “deeply troubling” and noted that teachers, youth camp administrators and counselors, and members of the clergy are required by law to report incidents of sexual abuse to police.

Still, Walker said, the court’s “sympathy cannot rewrite the law,” and they couldn’t ignore state law that sets educational and other guidelines for religious schools.

“Children trust adults not to hurt them,” Walker said. “The faithful trust their leaders to embody the tenets of the faith. If the Diocese acted, or failed to act, as the Attorney General alleges, then the Diocese has violated that trust and harmed those tendered to its care.”

In her dissent, Workman called the majority opinion “transparently result-oriented, which explains its logical incoherence and sins of omission.”

The case has nothing to do with the free exercise of religion, Workman said. The case involved only matters of unfair or deceptive acts or practices in advertising or selling and in advertising based on false promises, she wrote.

The Consumer Credit and Protection Act and the laws governing religious schools aren’t in conflict with each other, Workman said.

“... because it obviously did not want to engage in the heavy lifting of a meaningful, [thorough], complex and challenging examination of any religious rights implications, the majority chose to manufacture a nonexistent statutory conflict with a wholly unrelated statute,” Workman said. “The conflict was manufactured in order to exempt religious institutions from compliance with the CCPA protections of consumers from unfair or deceptive acts and practices or false promises and concealment of material facts in advertising to the general public.”

Morrisey filed the original lawsuit four months after the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston released a list naming 18 priests who were credibly accused of sexual abusing minors in West Virginia between the 1960s and 2000s.

That list was part of a series of reports of sexual abuse of children by leaders of the Catholic Church and subsequent coverups that were first reported by The Boston Globe in 2002.

In September 2018, Pope Francis removed disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield, who was bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston for 13 years, from his post in the diocese. In 2019, Francis ordered Bransfield to complete restitution, including paying $800,000 to the diocese, apologize to abuse victims and lose his bishop-level retirement package and receive a lower retirement stipend, according to The Washington Post.

West Virginia MetroNews, in August, reported that Bishop Mark Brennan, the current bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, said he had not heard from Bransfield since the pope ordered the restitution in July 2019.

Ohio County Circuit Judge John Beane dismissed the lawsuit in November 2019, but the actual dismissal of the case wasn’t at issue before the court in this matter. When he dismissed the original lawsuit, Beane determined that the consumer law couldn’t be applied to religious institutions, saying it would be an excessive entanglement of church and state.

In his dismissal order, Beane asked the Supreme Court to evaluate his points and answer whether the state’s Consumer Protection Act could be applied to religious institutions and whether the affect of applying the law in this case was an excessive entanglement of church and state.

The justices heard arguments to those questions on Sept. 22.

In short, the Supreme Court answered, “No” to the first point and “Yes” to the second, agreeing with Beane’s original opinion to dismiss the case.

In a footnote in the opinion the court handed down Monday, Walker noted that Morrisey’s office pre-emptively filed an appeal in the case in the event that the court upheld Beane’s dismissal. That means a new appeal of Beane’s dismissal from November 2019 is still pending before the Supreme Court and Morrisey’s case against the diocese isn’t over yet.

The diocese has 19 elementary schools and six high schools serving more than 5,000 children in West Virginia, according to Workman’s opinion. Yearly tuition at the schools is between $6,000 and $8,000 per student, with scholarships available in certain circumstances.

Curfew issued in Ohio beginning Thursday

HUNTINGTON — Ohio residents will be under a temporary curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning Thursday.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced the new measure as new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations related to it soar across the state. The curfew will last 21 days.

DeWine said the curfew does not prohibit anyone from going to work, getting food to go or from a drive-thru, or going to the hospital. The focus, he said, is limiting social gatherings and the number of contacts a person has in a day. He said a lot of it is common sense.

“If we can cut down contacts by 20-25%, this will make a difference,” DeWine said. “Paired with mask-wearing, this will go a long way from stopping our hospitals from being overrun.”

Ohio is quickly approaching 4,000 hospitalizations from COVID-19.

“We are at a critical juncture,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health. “We need to protect our health care workers. Even if we take necessary changes immediately, it will take weeks before we see improvement in hospital numbers. Even if you don’t believe in masks, please wear one.”

Last week, Vanderhoff and other medical professionals from around the state urged Ohioans to buckle down on wearing masks and social distancing. They and DeWine hinted that more precautions could be coming, including the shutdown of bars and restaurants. Dr. Andy Thomas, of Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical School, said at the time he didn’t think a shutdown of industries would make much impact, as the spread of the virus was happening at private gatherings.

After meeting with stakeholders, including the Ohio Restaurant Association, DeWine opted for the curfew instead of a shutdown of establishments.

Lt. Gov. John Husted said it is a “slowdown, not a shutdown.”

On Monday, DeWine signed a revised public- gathering order that went into effect Tuesday. The order affects wedding receptions, funeral receptions and other banquet events. It places those events under the same guidance as restaurants, banning dancing and requiring masks at all times other than while eating or drinking.

New COVID-19 guidance also will be released in Kentucky on Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday. It will include new measures for bars and restaurants.

Dr. Steven Stack, the Kentucky public health commissioner, said the number of Kentuckians hospitalized for COVID-19 has tripled in two months.

Stack said the “Healthy at Home” measures helped contain the initial escalation in March. The mask mandate blunted the second escalation in the summer, but the current escalation, he said, is steeper and starting from a higher level. Containing it, Stack said, will require additional measures.

Nearly 3,000 new positive cases were reported across Kentucky on Tuesday. The Ashland-Boyd County Health Department reported 42 new positive cases, with patients ranging from age 5 to 83. In November, 487 new cases have been reported in Boyd County.

In West Virginia, hospitalizations reached an all-time high Tuesday of 400 patients. There were 864 new positive cases reported, and 13 new deaths.

Amid calls for removal of Stonewall statue, Capitol Building Commission postpones meeting again

With multiple requests pending to discuss removing the Stonewall Jackson statue from the Capitol grounds, the Capitol Building Commission has, for a second straight month, postponed its meeting, which was scheduled for Wednesday.

“It seems like there’s always some reason not to have the meeting,” James Cochran, of West Virginians Against Confederate Commemoration, said Tuesday of the postponement.

Wednesday’s meeting originally had been scheduled for Oct. 14, but was postponed to Nov. 18 because of “scheduling conflicts.”

“I just find the whole process to be extremely frustrating,” Cochran said.

The organization, which has collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for removal of the statue of the Confederate general from the Capitol grounds, has repeatedly asked the commission to take up the issue as an agenda item.

Last week, Cochran said, he asked Department of Arts, Culture and History curator Randall Reid-Smith, who is commission chairman, for permission to address the panel. Cochran said he did not receive a response.

“I find it frustrating to not even be able to bring this issue up for discussion in a public meeting,” Cochran said.

Wednesday’s meeting was postponed until Dec. 9 because a staff member at the state Library Commission tested positive last week for COVID-19, and the Culture Center was temporarily closed for sanitization, department spokeswoman Bethany Cline said Tuesday.

The commission usually meets in one of the Culture Center’s conference rooms, but its most recent meeting was conducted via teleconference.

“I guess we should give them the benefit of the doubt, now that we’re past the election, that there is a legitimate COVID-19 concern,” Howard Swint, a longtime advocate of removing the Stonewall Jackson statue, said Tuesday.

Swint also has asked for permission, prior to both the postponed October and November meetings, to address the commission about relocating the Jackson statue and a bust of Jackson in the Capitol Rotunda.

Swint said he, too, finds it frustrating not having the opportunity to address the commission on the matter.

“They’ve taken down the statue of Stonewall Jackson in the capital of the Confederacy,” he said, referring to removal of a Jackson statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, this summer.

“They’re taking down the twin statue of Stonewall Jackson at VMI,” he said, referring to a unanimous vote last month by the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors to remove the statue, which is an exact replica of Jackson statue on the Capitol grounds.

Both were created by renowned sculptor Moses Ezekiel. According to the VMI website, Ezekiel donated the replica statue to the school, his alma mater, in 1912.

Cochran said West Virginia’s inaction stands out at a time when many states are removing Confederate statuary, which some consider to be symbols of white supremacy and minority oppression.

“That we can’t even bring ourselves to talk about it in West Virginia contributes to the image of West Virginia as being kind of a backward state,” he said of the inaction. “It seems like a big game of pass the buck or hot potato.”

Gov. Jim Justice has said legislative action would be required to remove the statue. However, state code gives the commission full authority over all “substantial physical changes” anywhere on the Capitol grounds.

Following a protest in June calling for removal of the statue, Justice told reporters: “I totally understand people’s concern and people’s objections; I get that. But I also understand from the other point of view: This has been here for a long time and people respect and honor those on that side of the fence, as well.”

The Capitol Building Commission last met July 8 — a meeting notable for the absence of discussion of the Jackson statue. Afterward, Reid-Smith said there were no requests for the commission to consider removal of either the Jackson statue or bust.

“Nothing was brought up about any of that,” he said.

Immediately following that meeting, representatives of more than 30 organizations sent a letter to Reid-Smith, to members of the commission and to Justice calling for a special meeting of the commission to take up the matter.

Cochran said Tuesday the inaction over removal of a Confederate symbol from the Capitol grounds is surprising, given West Virginia’s history as a Union state that was formed after Virginia seceded from the United States.

“This is a state that ought to have so much pride being in the Union and fighting against the Confederacy,” he said. “It really is surprising and puzzling to have this level of cognitive dissonance.”