Putnam board of health proposes staff reduction - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Putnam board of health proposes staff reduction

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Lolita Kirk and board member Joseph Haynes discuss the board's proposal. Lolita Kirk and board member Joseph Haynes discuss the board's proposal.

The Putnam County board of health made a proposal in a June 21 emergency meeting to lay off all 13 of the county health department's staff after officials said the department's financial situation is so concerning that the department is essentially operating in the red.

Lolita Kirk, the Putnam County Health Department's senior interim administrator, delivered a financial report in the emergency meeting, saying the department's debt exceeds $200,000 and it  has only $35,000 in the bank.

It will need an additional $100,000 in July just to meet current expenses.

Board member Joseph Haynes explained that pending approval from the state, the department would contract with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to provide services in Putnam County. That way, Haynes said, Putnam County residents would not see a reduction in services.

Haynes said the day of the emergency meeting was the first time board members had discussed laying off all staff. Kirk said the board had discussed a partial reduction, but even if they cut staff by 50 percent, services would suffer and may not meet state requirements.

Haynes said layoffs were the only option open.

The health department's current space would not be used, however, so the Kanawha-Charleston health department would have to find another place to administer services.

However, Haynes said there should not be a gap in services during the transition,

"The only change residents will see is where they go," Haynes explained. "We had to consider what was best for Putnam County and with the debt we had. This is the best decision. We owe the medical supply companies, and there are vaccines we are not able to provide and we are working on resolving the debt."

There is a possibility that some of the Putnam health department's staff would be hired back by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department as it works to provide services in Putnam County.

"But we won't be able to hire all of them," Kirk said, noting that the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department must go through the Division of Personnel. "There is the possibility that some of them would be hired back."

Board members did not vote on the proposal because of a lack of quorum. One member was contracting in Fayette County and could not be reached on his cell phone. The other also was unavailable.  

Officials said it is possible the board will vote on this proposal over the weekend. Members must make a decision by July 1.

"Everything has to be done by then because we enter another pay period and we don't know if we can meet it," Haynes said.

Haynes clarified that this is temporary and that the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is not taking over the Putnam board of health. He also clarified that Putnam County residents will not have to go to Charleston to get services.

Haynes said the board will still be there to set policy.

Haynes said once the finances are settled, the health department would be reinstated.

After the meeting, Haynes explained how the department got into debt. He said when the health department moved to the new facility, it hoped to expand the clinical end and have more income coming in.

"But that never happened," he said.

Samuel Henson, medical director of the Putnam County Health Department, said public health also had to compete with private health providers and still produce an income.

Another thing that contributed to the debt was a personnel issue that ended up in litigation, Haynes said.

"The legal fees were more than anyone anticipated, and previous administration showed bad judgment by paying the legal fees first before rent and utilities," Haynes said. "The priorities weren't there, and by the time we were aware of it, it was too late."

Haynes said beside cutting staff, board members have other plans for reducing debt, such as looking at finances and prioritizing. He noted the department still has money coming in from the county level, and he remained optimistic about paying the debt off.

"We could very well have it paid off within a year or two years and we will go back to business as usual," he said.