Bill proposes Lakin Hospital closure

By Beth Sergent - [email protected]

WEST COLUMBIA, W.Va. — Lakin Hospital is reportedly one of four state-run nursing facilities which could close if a bill currently making its way through the legislature emerges from committee and is eventually passed.

House Bill 2626 proposes Lakin, along with Joe Manchin, Sr. Health Care Center in Fairmont, Hopemont Hospital in Preston County and Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley, would close effective Jan. 1. 2022.

This bill originated in the House Health and Human Resources Committee and has been sent to the House Finance Committee.

The bill’s current language states the employees would be offered to transfer to another position within state government that they are otherwise qualified for at the same rate of pay and benefits that they are currently receiving. If the employee does not transfer, that employee would receive a severance package which includes their current salary and benefits for one year.

As for residents, the proposed bill states they would be transferred to a long-term care facility “of his or her choosing that is able to accommodate his or her level of care.”

If the resident is not able to make the decision for himself or herself and his or her medical or legal power of attorney is unable to be reached to make a final decision regarding transfer, “he or she shall be transferred to the nearest location which is able to accommodate his or her level of care,” the current draft of the bill states.

“The purpose of this bill is to discontinue operation of the state’s long-term care facilities,” according to a note attached to the legislation found on the Legislature’s website.

The text in the bill also states Lakin was built in 1926.

According to the bill’s language: “The age of the facilities results in continuous costly repairs and upgrades to ensure the safety of the residents. The costs for utilities, building maintenance and repairs, and payroll costs are not sustainable. The Legislature is accountable for the care of persons in these facilities and has a duty to ensure the facilities in which they live are maintained and safe. The Legislature can no longer ensure that the residents and employees are safe in these facilities. The Legislature finds that it is necessary to discontinue the operation of these facilities at this time.”

According to reporting from the Point Pleasant Register from both 2007 and 2017 on Lakin Hospital’s history:

“Founded by an act of the West Virginia Legislature in 1919, Lakin Hospital opened its doors on Feb. 1, 1926, with a purpose of, ‘the reception and treatment of Blacks suffering from mental and nervous disorders.’ The hospital, served patients from across the state. Although the institution’s original name reflected the era of segregation, it was a nontraditional facility with an all African American staff, including administrators, and was one of what is believed to be only two all African American mental health facilities east of the Mississippi River.

“The ‘Lakin State Hospital for the Colored Insane’ hasn’t existed in years, nor has ‘Lakin State Hospital,’ as it became known to locals in the more recent past. The facility began making the transition from psychiatric to nursing care in the late 1970s, achieving its intermediate care facility status in 1984 which means it could provide nursing care to adults and adults of all races. In fact, there are very few reminders of the old hospital on the grounds — memories not withstanding.”

Also reported by the Register in 2007:

“One of the hospital’s oldest existing buildings is the Office Building which remains on the grounds though it is only used for storage by the nearby Lakin Correctional Facility for Woman. The Office Building, erected around the late-1950’s is said to have housed not only offices but been a place for major and minor surgery and private pay patients… “

Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley told the Register on Monday, it was his understanding the current building housing the residents was built in the mid-to-late 1970’s, not 1926. He added, the commission plans on bringing up this proposed legislation at its meeting this week.

On Monday, a spokesperson for DHHR told the Register, Lakin Hospital currently has 105 employees and 54 residents.

The spokesperson clarified this was not a DHHR bill and was introduced by the House Health Committee.

“…We learned of the contents of the proposed legislation at last week’s committee meeting. We will abide by the decision if it passes and becomes law,” the spokesperson added.

The Register also asked DHHR about the project’s reported savings to the state if the closures occurred.

The DHHR spokesperson stated those additional questions were best addressed by the Legislature.

More on the status of this bill and responses by local, legislative officials as they become available.

© 2021 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.

By Beth Sergent

[email protected]

Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.

Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.