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Putnam Health Department finds temporary home

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department has found a temporary home to offer clinical services to Putnam County residents in their home county.

The Kanawha-Charleston and Putnam Health boards will work out of the Department of Health and Human Resources location in Winfield until Kanawha-Charleston administrators can secure a permanent facility for the Putnam agency, which contracted services with Kanawha-Charleston in June to combat mounting financial problems.

"Our understanding is that we can use this facility for the duration of our agreement with the Putnam County board of health, which is up to Dec. 31. However, we would like to ensure that the citizens of Putnam County have a more permanent home for their health department, and that's what we're working on," said Rahul Gupta, health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

Gupta said he anticipates locating a new facility in the coming weeks, and Kanawha-Charleston has enlisted several of its employees to provide services in Putnam County while administrators hire a new staff for the Putnam agency.

Lolita Kirk, administrator for Kanawha-Charleston's health department and interim administrator in Putnam County, said she has requested five positions so far through the state's Division of Personnel: two sanitarians, an accounting technician for payment processing, a licensed practical nurse and a medical assistant to perform medical and clerical services for the agency.

"Every county health department also hires part-timers during peak seasons. You'll hire a few part-timers during flu season to help with flu shots, during back-to-school season you'll hire people to help with that, so you'll have part-time people employed also," Kirk said.

The sanitarian postings will close this week and the Division of Personnel will give Kirk the names of the applicants; there is currently one full-time Kanawha-Charleston sanitarian working in Putnam County who worked as a former Putnam sanitarian, as well as a part-time sanitarian from Cabell County. The temporary facility does not have an exam room, but many of its clinical services will still be available, including walk-in clinics for back-to-school vaccinations.

According to Kirk, the Kanawha-Charleston agency is fully prepared to take on the added load of Putnam school vaccinations, and does not foresee a shortage in vaccinations or services for either county.

"We very much have it under control; we do a lot of shots at Kanawha-Charleston, we're pulling in some extra staff into the mix -- we've got it under control," Kirk said.

Walk-in clinic days for Putnam County school vaccinations will be held Aug. 14, 15, 21 and 22 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the DHHR office at 3405 Winfield Road. Gupta said residents can still call the Putnam agency's old phone number at 304-757-2541 and will be redirected to the Health Department.

"We're going to have several nurses juggling in the interim to provide these walk-in clinics, as well as the some of the other clinical services," Gupta said.

The Kanawha-Charleston agency has been providing clinical services for Putnam County since July 1, after the Putnam Health Board voted in late June to lay off its 12 full-time and two part-time employees to avoid further financial problems. The agency is more than $250,000 in debt and was unable to keep up with its current obligations.

Part of the reason for the agency's financial problems stem from losing two wrongful termination cases filed by former sanitarian Barbara Koblinsky, who recently won an appeal by the Health Board in Kanawha County Circuit Court. The Putnam agency has paid more than $100,000 in legal fees to Charleston lawyer Karen Miller and still owes her more than $20,000. If the agency chooses not to appeal the court's most recent decision, it will also owe Koblinsky nearly a year of back pay.

Gordon Simmons, Koblinsky's union representative, said Koblinsky is not likely to seek reinstatement, although Kirk said that wouldn't be possible for the department in its current state. Koblinsky cited the county's strict rabies policy and her opposition to it as the reason for her initial firing. Unlike other counties, which allow pets that have bitten humans to be quarantined at home, Putnam County requires they be kept in the animal shelter or a veterinary office for the 10-day quarantine period at the owner's expense.

Kirk said the sanitarians working in Putnam County would enforce any policies set forth by the Putnam County Board of Health, which has retained its control over health policy in Putnam County in its agreement with Kanawha-Charleston.

"Our sanitarians are enforcing Putnam's policies just as they would enforce Kanawha County's policies if they were working in Kanawha County," she said.

In the agreement between the two agencies signed earlier this month, all revenue from clinical services performed by Kanawha-Charleston's health department stays with Kanawha-Charleston, which will use the $414,000 in state funds allotted to Putnam County's health department to run the Putnam agency.

The two boards have agreed to a six-month service contract, and Putnam County's health board will use its County Commission funds to help pay down its debts. The Health Board is prevented by law from using state funds for its debts, and the County Commission awards the agency $150,000 per year, so that it might take at least two years for the Putnam County board of health to fully pay off its existing debt while contracting with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

"It's anybody's guess how long it will take to rectify that problem. Currently, we are available and ready, we're working in partnership with their board of health, as well as the County Commission, to do what we can," Gupta said. "Our obligation is to provide the best services possible for the citizens of Putnam County. Should they request us to continue that for the foreseeable future, we can definitely look at that."

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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