CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Kanawha County judge has warned the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources that it will be in contempt of court if it does not give pay raises to staff at the state's psychiatric hospitals by Jan. 31.
Circuit Judge Duke Bloom also said in a recent order that he would fine the agency $50 per employee per day if it does not comply with his earlier orders to provide more than $500,000 in raises, the Charleston Daily Mail reported Thursday.
Marsha Dadisman, a DHHR spokeswoman, said the DHHR does not comment on pending litigation. She told the newspaper that the agency's policy is to comply with all orders from the court.
The case began in 1981 and centers on the treatment of mental health patients.
Bloom originally ordered the raises for staff at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington and at William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston in 2009. DHHR provided some raises but has not fully complied, arguing that it faces logistical issues.
On Oct. 17, Bloom issued a ruling from the bench ordering the agency to comply by Jan. 1. He directed a DHHR attorney to draft a document outlining the order.
The DHHR asked Bloom on Dec. 7 to reconsider his bench ruling, which was not officially filed until Dec. 11. Also on Dec. 11, the DHHR asked the judge in a separate filing to halt enforcement of the order, saying it did not have time to meet the deadline.
"The department itself agreed these pay increases were necessary and set forth the amounts they were going to increase in 2009 and just blatantly turned around and didn't do it," Mountain State Justice attorney Jennifer Wagner told the newspaper.During a Dec. 14 hearing, Bloom dismissed the DHHR's latest reasons for not providing the raises. He set a Jan. 31 deadline for compliance.