West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch has said day care centers no longer are allowed to care for “non-essential” workers’ children, but the state will pay for “essential” workers’ child care needs during the COVID-19 crisis.
Jessica Holstein, a spokeswoman for the department, wrote in an email that “this child care assistance is only for those essential workers who have no other option and must leave their home to perform their work. Essential workers who are teleworking are not eligible for assistance unless they are telemedicine providers.”
Holstein wrote that eligible parents will have their child care fully paid for.
They must apply by contacting their local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency, she wrote. The agency serving Kanawha, Clay, Jackson and Roane counties may be reached at 304-414-4488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crouch wrote a letter explaining the changes to all licensed or registered day cares on March 24. Gov. Jim Justice’s order for non-essential businesses to close took effect that night.
Justice, when ordering the shutdown of schools statewide starting March 16, left private and nonprofit day cares open.
Some other states also had left day cares open but restricted them to serving only the children of people such as first responders, emergency workers and health care workers. West Virginia’s more recent narrowing of child care access to just essential workers moves the state more in that direction.
However, Justice has deemed as “essential” many more employees beyond those such as nurses and firefighters. He’s included grocery store workers, coal miners and car and gun sellers in the essential designation.
In the wake of the new child care restriction, West Virginia University professors who sent their children to the Bright Horizons WVU Child Learning Center are opposing that day care’s decision to stop paying its teachers. Bright Horizons Family Solutions is a multinational, publicly traded corporation.
“We want our kids to — when they go back to that day care — to have the same teachers, the same continuity of care,” said Johanna Winant, a WVU English professor who was sending her 1-year-old there.
Winant expressed concern about teachers losing their health care during the coronavirus pandemic. A letter that Bright Horizons sent parents didn’t guarantee it would continue offering employees benefits past June 1, even if the workers paid premiums.
“Further action will be considered if necessary,” the letter said. It did say WVU was helping pay employee benefit costs.
Winant criticized Bright Horizons for the letter, which said there would be a “Bridge Program” and “Employee Care Counselors” to help the workers with things like applying for unemployment benefits.
“It’s just all full of really poorly written euphemism,” she said. “I’m an English professor, and I was offended by it.
“These are already people who are living on food stamps and spending their days on exhausting work, and really important work,” she added. “It was already so devalued, and now to see it devalued further makes me so sick.”
Christina Fattore, a WVU political science associate professor, said in a Twitter message that “a multimillion dollar corporation is more concerned about lining its pockets than supporting its teachers during this national crisis. It’s disgusting.”
Fattore noted The Boston Globe’s report that Bright Horizons’ chief executive officer agreed to forgo his salary this year, or until the majority of day cares reopen.
“Cool,” she tweeted. “If I made $3.4 mil two years ago, I’d be OK with that too.”
The company said in an email that “this [is] a difficult time for everyone at Bright Horizons since we had to close many of our centers across the country.”
“We do not take the impact that this pandemic is having on our teachers and so many families lightly,” it said. “We are doing all we can to support our teachers in the best way we can. During this time, Bright Horizons is refocusing the organization on a mission to provide care for the children of health care workers and first responders.”
A separate Bright Horizons location, at WVU Medicine, is continuing to serve health care workers.
Following a three-week flurry of preparation, Saint Francis Hospital, in Charleston, West Virginia’s first and only COVID-19 surge hospital, was ready to receive patients Friday — five days before the number of coronavirus cases is projected to peak in the state.
“Hopefully, we’ll never have to use it,” said Brian Lilly, chief quality officer for Thomas Health, the umbrella organization under which Saint Francis and Thomas Memorial Hospital operate. “But if we do, we have the capability here now to handle whatever may come up.”
If the surge in West Virginia’s COVID-19 caseload turns out to be higher than anticipated, Saint Francis has reconfigured two floors and added enough beds and equipment to serve 96 coronavirus patients at a time, according to Lilly.
The new COVID-19 surge hospital is designed to treat coronavirus patients diagnosed at medical facilities across the state who are primarily in need of active short-term care or rehabilitation services and are referred to the Charleston facility by state public health officials.
Before being assigned beds in the surge unit, located on the fourth and fifth floors of the downtown hospital, incoming patients would have their vitals checked in a 12-space examination room on the ground floor.
Dan Lauffer, president and CEO of Thomas Health, praised a collaborative effort by a team of state and federal agencies for making it possible to bring the COVID-19 unit from concept stage to being ready to receive patients in less than one month.
The state Legislature, Governor’s Office, Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency helped produce the funding and operational plans needed to get the surge hospital going. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performed an assessment to determine that the building had the infrastructure needed to add the COVID-19 unit.
National Guard personnel also helped the hospital’s staff rewire the building’s communications system to accommodate additional bed space, and, with the help of the state Department of Transportation, trucked in and offloaded needed supplies, including four tractor-trailer loads of hospital beds from the recently closed Fairmont Regional Medical Center.
Before delivering a blessing for the new surge unit, Sister Barbara McCartney, of Thomas Health’s pastoral care department, noted that an earlier version of Saint Francis Hospital had served the Charleston area during the 1918 influenza pandemic, which claimed the lives of 2,818 West Virginians.
“This hospital has been in West Virginia for 107 years, and in the forefront of addressing the area’s health care needs,” McCartney said. “It’s no stranger to the front lines in times of need. To not respond to this time of need was not an option.”
Scrupulous adherence to stay-at-home orders and social distancing has brought another positive revision of COVID-19 projections for West Virginia from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Dr. Clay Marsh, the Mountain State’s COVID-19 czar, announced the upgrade during Friday’s daily state briefing on the pandemic.
The projections now call for coronavirus cases in West Virginia to peak Sunday, a date that previously had been moved up from early May to mid-April, and for 74 projected deaths through Aug. 4. That count previously had topped 500 but was reduced to just over 100, he said.
“We are really moving the projection curve in the right direction,” said Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University.
“We have bought ourselves more time. We have protected the ones we love,” he said of adherence to restrictions that began to be imposed in mid-March. “It’s really effective. It’s working.”
Marsh, however, called on West Virginians to remain vigilant, noting that the experience of other countries has been that a second surge can occur if restrictions are relaxed too soon.
“Don’t let up,” he said. “The game is still in its early phases.”
Also during Friday’s briefing:
Added to the order Friday were Cabell, Wayne, Wood and Ohio counties.
He said the counties will be given latitude in determining how to distribute those funds.
Justice also said the state will give a $500 bonus to National Guard members called to active duty during the pandemic.