Del. Joey Garcia

Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion, is joining his colleagues to fight a bill that calls for closing all of the state-owned nursing homes, including the John Manchin Center in Fairmont.

FAIRMONT — The state of West Virginia operates four long-term health care facilities including the John Manchin Sr. Healthcare Center in Marion County.

Legislation is being introduced to close these facilities arguing that the cost of upkeep and payroll is unsustainable. House Bill 2626 states that patients and staff can not be guaranteed safety in the facilities.

If they were to close, operation would discontinue Jan. 1, 2022. State employees would be given the option to take another position in state government or receive a severance package of their current salary and benefits for a year. Residents have the choice to transfer to another long-term care facility of their choosing.

However, Marion County representatives are not on board with the closure of the facility in Marion County. Del. Guy Ward, R-Marion, said he’s working with Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion, and Del. Phil Mallow, R-Marion, to save the facility. Ward said the other facilities listed in the bill are in disrepair and are estimated to cost a lot of money to repair and the government doesn’t have the money to put into them.

“I can see them shutting down the other ones for that reason,” he said.

He said the facility in Fairmont is in better shape than the others and there’s no reason to push to shut it down. It also provides Meals on Wheels for seniors.

“I think the state government just wants to get out of the nursing home business, I understand that, but this one here has more to it than just a nursing home,” said Ward.

The John Manchin Center currently has 30 residents and is licensed for 44 beds. One bed is reserved for isolation, and four beds are reserved for COVID-19 patients. The facility has also provided 43,120 meals from July 2020 to January 2021 for Meals on Wheels and the Valley Healthcare ACT Unit. It has also provided telehealth throughout the pandemic averaging 394 patients a month.

Garcia said the center provides services for people who may have otherwise fallen through the cracks. Garcia said he hasn’t received any information that there isn’t a need for the facilities.

“I don’t think that private entities are going to come in and pick up the slack so I’m concerned and I’m working with our delegation for Marion County senators and delegates to try and stop that or at least remove the John Manchin facility [from the bill],” said Garcia.

Garcia said the John Manchin Center provides a safety net for people. He said similar legislation has been pushed through before but has failed a number of times.

“Our delegation in Marion County has strongly opposed it and we’ve been successful so hopefully we can do the same thing again but I think it’s just a bad idea that will hurt West Virginians and hurt Marion County,” he said.

State Sen. Mike Caputo, D-13, largely echoed the thoughts of his colleagues, and said these closures are something the legislature has been fighting for several years.

“The John Manchin Clinic does a tremendous job taking care of folks at the long-term care facility and they do a great job of providing health care for those who can’t afford healthcare anywhere else,” said Caputo.

He said he believes the closure is something Marion County citizens do not want to see. He said he’s extremely upset that the bill came out of nowhere.

“It just saddens me that we’ll throw all this away to a for-profit entity. Where are these people gonna go? Where are they going to be placed and who’s going to pay for it?” said Caputo.

He said family members might have to place their love ones in facilities farther away from home, making it harder for them to visit or care for them.

“It’s a bad idea. It’s heartless and it’s mean-spirited, and I hope that the Marion County delegation does everything they can do to fight this off on the house side because I’m going to do everything I can do to fight it off on the senate side,” he said.

Debbie Harvey, executive director of the Marion County Senior Citizens Inc., also voiced opposition to the bill. The seniors groups provides services, such as meals and transportation, while the John Manchin Center provides food for the seniors daily.

“This isn’t the first year that this has come up in the legislative session. I’ve tried to find a backup plan but there really is no other facility in Marion County that has been willing to take on this endeavor,” she said.

Harvey said the organization receives 225 meals daily from The Manchin Center with some of the meals going to homebound seniors and some going to carry out meals due to COVID-19.

“It’s kind of scary because I’ve tried for like three years to have a backup plan and we’ve been unsuccessful,” she said.

Harvey said she’s contacted all the delegates in Marion County, as well as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in hopes of enlisting his support.

“I hate that they’re bundling all of them and not addressing them on each agencies merits. If you’ve got one that’s doing well and one that’s not doing well is it fair to bundle them and get rid of all of them?” said Harvey.

Marion County Commissioner Linda Longstreth, who served as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates until she was elected to the county commission on Nov. 3, said she opposes the measure because it would adversely impact some of the region’s most vulnerable residents.

“This is terrible news for Marion County and the patients who are well taken care of there along with serving 8,000 seniors through Meals on Wheels,” Longstreth stated via text message to the Times West Virginian. “Then there is the loss of jobs to a very dedicated staff. They are moving very fast on bills that have consequences to constituents and because of Covid people are restricted to be in the Capitol to follow what they are doing. It’s a shame to push such legislation so fast that concerned citizens cannot get the chance to voice an objection!”

Reach Sarah Marino at 304-367-2549

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