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Putnam County without threat preparedness funds

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- The Putnam County Board of Health has not been given its threat preparedness grant for the 2014 fiscal year, leaving it without nearly $100,000 in federal funds allocated for disasters.

According to Rahul Gupta, executive director and health director for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, the lapse in funding may be due to an ongoing federal investigation. The KCHD is providing clinical services for the Putnam agency.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources, which is responsible for awarding the grant, has withheld it from Putnam County since July 1. Gupta said Kanawha-Charleston has gone through all of the normal procedures and contacted the DHHR on several occasions, but has not received an answer as to why the funding has not been released.

"It is the board's responsibility to ensure the federal grant monies awarded by the government make it to its people," Gupta said. "We have repeatedly asked,   'What is missing for us to receive this grant?' They can't fund us last year and not this year, and they can't ask for things that they're not asking from anyone else in 54 counties."

According to Gupta, the federal investigation is not concerned with the Putnam department's dealings after July 1, although details of the investigation have not been released.

Gupta said the funding covers public health emergencies such as influenza pandemics, natural disasters and industrial accidents like one at the Clearon plant in South Charleston Wednesday.

"It's unacceptable for us to deprive the citizens of Putnam County of the ability to protect themselves and keep themselves safe in a public health emergency situation," he said. "We don't believe in stopping these services. However, in order to do these services, we need to be funded."

Gupta said he invited Jerry Rhodes, the director of the WVDHHR's Center for Threat Preparedness, to appear at the meeting to discuss oversight of the grant.

Rhodes told the Gazette he did not plan to appear at the meeting, and that questions regarding the federal investigation must go through the agency's communications representatives. He said he had requested a "private meeting" with Putnam's administrators to discuss their concerns.

The DHHR is required by law to monitor the activities of its sub-grantees, including all county health departments, for each fiscal year in order to prevent misuse of funds.

"The reason we invited him is because he had expressed to us some concerns about the public health emergency preparedness grant. We told him several times in writing that we could not discuss the details of that grant because of an ongoing federal investigation," Gupta said. "He continues to ask questions. We have further said that for action to be taken on this issue, he would need to come in front of the board in a public meeting.

"In that spirit, we had invited him. Public health emergency preparedness has a lot of implications. There was a chemical leak in Kanawha County yesterday; if that happened tomorrow in Putnam County, someone would be responsible for public health, and that would be your local health department."

The board also held an executive, or closed session, to discuss legal matters. Interim administrator Lolita Kirk was not included in the session, but Gary Young, a former landlord for the PCHD, entered the session to discuss outstanding debts with the board. The PCHD is not currently in litigation with Young. During public meetings, executive sessions are reserved for discussing legal and personnel issues.

The board approved a payment to Young for $34,205 during the meeting, as well as a measure to pay their outstanding debt of roughly $130,000 to Young within the next two fiscal years, pending county commission approval. The board has agreed to pay 50 percent of its outstanding debt to Young this year, but has less than $40,000 remaining in county funding and will request more from the commission.Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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