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Putnam County Health Department bouncing back

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- The Putnam County Health Department has "nearly caught up" on its clinical services and environmental health inspections after mismanagement and financial issues caused the agency to fold in June.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director and health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said the number of inspections and patient visits are back up where they need to be. The KCHD took over services for the struggling agency on July 1.

After taking over Putnam's health operations, administrators at the KCHD reported a 259 percent increase in patient encounters from the previous year's average, and an 884 percent increase in facility inspections performed by sanitarians in July and September.

Still, that's with the Kanawha-Charleston agency running PCHD operations on a 40 percent reduced budget, Gupta said.

"We're really making this an opportunity, so that folks across the state can say, 'They're reducing their budget and increasing their services. How does that work?' When all is said and done, we'll probably see a lot more of it across the state. They'll copy what we're doing," he told the county's Board of Health during its regular meeting Thursday.

The PCHD has collected $42,000 in clinic fees since mid-September, and generated more than $9,000 in environmental fees from inspections. According to Lolita Kirk, KCHD administrator and PCHD interim administrator, the fees are only collected from those eligible for insurance and able to pay. The agency does not turn people away.

The agency, which moved to a smaller facility on Winfield Road in September after vacating Corporate Center Drive in Scott Depot, has performed 2,388 clinical procedures and 646 inspections in that time, Gupta said. Prior to the KCHD takeover, administrators said they found evidence that some restaurant facilities in the county had not been inspected at all in as much as a decade.

Part of the cause of the PCHD's financial troubles stem from the loss of two court cases against a former sanitarian. Barbara Koblinsky won her second wrongful termination suit against the PCHD in July, but the board has not yet addressed back payment for her.

According to Jennifer Scragg Karr, the county's attorney, she hasn't given the issue to the board yet because the amount of pay owed hasn't been determined. She said the base sum still needs to be reviewed by the Division of Personnel to determine the amount of interest owed to Koblinsky.

"They don't really have to make a motion until they sign the check, and we don't know how to make out the check exactly until all of the interest is calculated," Scragg Karr said.

Gordon Simmons, Koblinsky's legal counsel, told the Gazette earlier this month that the DOP has already given a $50,000 estimate in the case, and that the county's legal counsel countered with $40,000, arguing that the county did not have enough funds.

The next regular meeting of the Putnam County Board of Health will be Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. in Winfield.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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