Sunday, March 26, 2023

Interim Report: Joint Committee on Health

Lawmakers heard about conditions at state-run medical facilities during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health Tuesday morning in the House Chamber.

Mike Folio, legal director of Disability Rights West Virginia, described allegations of a culture of abuse, fear of retaliation among staff who speak out, lack of transparency and enormous costs at these state-run facilities. He also alleged multiple instances of unnecessary institutionalization.

Earlier this week, West Virginia’s DHHR secretary Bill Crouch confirmed the agency is cooperating with a federal investigation of discrimination allegations at these facilities for disabled people.

Crouch, who was not a scheduled to speak to the committee, addressed lawmakers late in the meeting to defend his agency. He asked how the Disability Rights West Virginia position could be considered non-adversarial, calling it an “attack on DHHR.”

Crouch conceded there are issues in DHHR but that every effort is being made to correct them with full transparency. He reiterated the agency’s full cooperation with federal investigators, saying he welcomes the investigation then added that he believes Disability Rights West Virginia should be investigated also.

He called the notion that his agency is trying to keep people in a psychiatric facility “nonsense.” The well being of patients William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston in particular, has been a longstanding concern for legislators.

Crouch said his agency is always looking to make sure they can move patients to an appropriate level of care and they do not want people in psychiatric facilities that shouldn’t be there. He said community placement facilities are a huge tool but the agency needs more of them.

There was so much concern from members that Health Committee Chairman Matthew Rohrbach said lawmakers would likely need to revisit these issues in the near future.

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