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Putnam health department seeks emergency funds

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Putnam County Board of Health members have asked the health department's new director to look into filing for emergency financial help.

The board has also requested the state perform an audit of the department's finances -- separate from its routine audit, according to Putnam County Commissioner Joe Haynes, who serves on the health board.

Meanwhile, the Putnam County Commission has loaned the department $30,000, as the agency struggles to pay its bills.

On Tuesday, commissioners decided to begin requesting county agencies funded by the commission -- the health department, parks and recreation, the library and community corrections -- turn in quarterly budgets. Also, an agency representative will be required to present another budget report six months after the annual budget meeting in March.

Joel McKinney, who took over as administrator of the health department around the end of February, reported to commissioners last month that the health department was struggling to pay rent and other bills. Financial problems stemmed from legal fees associated with a wrongful termination lawsuit, he said.

Haynes said board members asked McKinney to look into filing an emergency funding application with the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

It was unclear whether McKinney had made the application, and he could not be reached for comment.

The loan from the county commission is to be used to cover "immediate costs," according to Commissioner Andy Skidmore, who plans to take over for Haynes on the health board in the coming months.

McKinney, who had been a sanitarian at the department, took over for Jackie Fleshman, who had served as the administrator at the health department since 2008. She now works as an educator for nonprofit Mission WV, according to its website.

Around the time Fleshman stepped down, board members began noticing financial problems, Haynes said.

"Until Joel came to us, we didn't realize the extent of the problem," he said. "That's why we wanted to go ahead and get the audit and know exactly where we are."

In addition to the legal fees causing financial problems, Haynes said, "I think it's safe to say we may have over-anticipated what services the community was going to require. We were probably thinking money was going to flow a little more freely than it did."

A $57,000 tax lien filed in July last year was lifted in November, according to documents on file in the Putnam County clerk's office.

In 2011, the health department moved to a larger building in the Teays Valley Corporate Center with the intention of expanding the health clinic.

"It may have been a bigger space than what was actually needed, but at the time we were anticipating expanding the clinical side," Haynes said. "Then we lost a nurse practitioner and money got tight and she was never replaced.

"All of these things, like hiring outside legal counsel, expanding like we did, we all made those decisions. We can't point fingers, we were all part of those decisions," he said.

"If there was any wrongdoing we certainly want to know about it, but there's no reason to think so until somebody says so."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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