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Putnam health department cuts staff, contracts with Kanawha-Charleston

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The Putnam County Health Department will lay off all 13 employees and contract services with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department because of budgetary shortfalls, board members decided in a June 24 emergency meeting.

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

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

In the most recent emergency meeting, board member Joseph Haynes said he anticipates the department's debt to be paid off within one to two years.

Pending approval from the state, the department will 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.

 This contract will go on for six months and then officials will decide whether to continue or terminate the contract.

Kirk said the board previously 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 will not be used, however, because of expense. So, the Kanawha-Charleston health department would have to find another place to administer services.

Haynes said officials do have some places in mind.  

However, Haynes said there will 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."

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 besides cutting staff, they have other plans for reducing their debt, such as looking at their 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.

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