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Delegates express alarm over Fairmont hospital closure

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One by one, delegates representing the area served by Fairmont Regional Medical Center rose and expressed alarm over its announced closure.

The hospital today announced that more than 600 physicians, nurses and staff it will be shutting down after attempts to find a new buyer for the hospital failed.

Delegates from Marion County rose after today’s House floor session with fiery remarks about trying to save the hospital. Each blamed the hospital’s ownership while saying they had reached out to Gov. Jim Justice today to plead for help.

Delegates Mike Caputo, Linda Longstreth and Michael Angelucci, all Democrats from Marion County, rose and described their concern. Then so did House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, who worked for 15 years as a nurse in the emergency room at the Fairmont hospital.

Delegate Caputo on Fairmont hospital closure

— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) February 18, 2020

The Fairmont hospital turmoil has been unfolding for weeks.

Office of the Governor

Gov. Jim Justice

The hospital had 25 layoffs in September, and delegates from the area wrote a letter to the owner urging the hospital remain open.

When reporters asked Governor Justice about the hospital situation  earlier this month he responded, “We’re on it. We’re doing a lot, a lot of work on that,” describing meetings with other players in West Virginia medical care.

“We absolutely will maintain hospital care and emergency care for those people in Fairmont.”

Justice, that day, said he would establish a rural healthcare task force with major West Virginia medical players because of the Fairmont situation and other troubles among providers.

Several West Virginia hospitals have struggled to survive in recent months.

Last fall, Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling abruptly closed, resulting in hundreds of layoffs.

Williamson Memorial Hospital in Mingo County filed for bankruptcy last fall and announced 20 layoffs last month as part of reorganization.

And Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston announced at the start of this year that it would reorganize through bankruptcy. 

Mike Caputo

Caputo, a longtime delegate from Marion County, today said the hospital there is crucial for community members.

“Everyone told us they want to save the facility and then this morning we wake up to a WARN notice,” Caputo said. “Six hundred jobs, 600 families don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.”

He expressed frustration that the state has tried to provide a good business climate but closures like this result.

“Healthcare is going to be nonexistent in Marion County. It’s going to be bad for our community and the people in it. It’s just not right,” Caputo said.



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Foster care bill passes House, prompting anticipation of how Senate might view $16 million cost

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates passed a broad-ranging foster care bill that also comes with a $16 million price tag.

In a tight budget year, delegates were already talking about not only defending the policy choice as the bill now goes to the Senate but also the spending priority.

“It has a significant financial piece. This is the first big nut we’re going to send across to the Senate,” said Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh.

“We’ve done good work here, but the job is not done. We need to defend our policy but also to defend our decision.”

The House of Delegates passed the bill 96-1 with three absences. The lone no vote was from Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, who had asked about the cost.

The bill enumerates certain rights for foster families.

It spells out more clearly what guardians ad litem, the people who officially speak on behalf of children, are required to do prior to the adjudication of the process.

That aspect is meant to provide more assurance to foster families that guardians ad litem are truly speaking with children and hearing them out.

And it increases the per diem for foster families while also establishing an equivalent rate for kinship families — those who have taken in a child but who haven’t gone through certification.

The increased per diem for kinship families was a committee amendment and created a significant price that hadn’t been considered previously.

Under the bill, families fostering through DHHR would be paid at least $900 per month per child placed in their home, or about $30 a day — an increase of about $300 per month. The reimbursement rate for kinship families would be raised to an equivalent amount.

The state’s share of the cost was estimated to be about $16.9 million. An additional $14 million in federal funding is anticipated.

With a flat budget proposed by Gov. Jim Justice, no one has specified yet how the state would come up with this additional amount.

Delegate Jeffrey Pack, R-Raleigh, said in an interview that money could be found through the priorities in the current budget.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an increased line item,” he said. “I think we’re just going to find money within the current confines of the budget without additional spending.”

Pack pushed for increased financial support for kinship families such as grandparents raising children whose homes have been disrupted by drug addiction.

He said he is proud of the bill.

“Terribly pleased. This is a fabulous bill. We’ve worked for months and months and months on it. It passed through three committees, and the funding remained intact. I’m anxious for it to go to the Senate and see what they do with it,” said Pack, vice chairman of the House Health Committee.

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, had expressed concern earlier in the session about whether the bill would pass through the three committees to which it had been assigned.

On Tuesday morning, Zukoff said he is pleased the bill was set to pass overwhelmingly.

“I’m so excited about this. I really think there’s not a bill in this Legislature this session than us addressing the foster care crisis in this state,” Zukoff said.

More than 7,000 children are in state custody. About 450 of those are out of state, mostly in group residential homes or long-term psychiatric facilities.

More and more extended families are taking in children.

Zukoff said it’s important to provide funding to “family members who step up to the plate but who might not have the resources to take care of these children. We know being in a home is ultimately what’s best for a child. We were concerned the kinship families might be left out of this.

“So this is an important bill that addresses all aspects of our foster care crisis. And it’s been done in a bipartisan fashion, so I’m really excited about this bill.”

Jason Barrett

The bill drew praise from both sides of the aisle on the House floor prior to its passage.

“Our foster families in West Virginia are truly angels among us,” said Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley.

“Great emphasis has been placed on the projected cost of this bill, but we must acknowledge that this is an investment.”

Daryl Cowles

Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said he has taken foster children into his home. He said the bill would be broadly appreciated as a legislative priority.

“Foster parents want to be supported, they want to be recognized, they want to be included – and I think it is important to say that in the code,” Cowles said.

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Cowboys riding high coming into rematch with West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Oklahoma State and West Virginia met in Stillwater on Jan. 6, it would have been impossible to comprehend the possibility of the Cowboys being the team that would be riding a wave of momentum heading into their rematch.

Oklahoma State was nothing short of awful, committing 19 turnovers while shooting 1-for-20 from three-point range. It was the second game of a six-game losing streak for the Cowboys, who seemed destined for the Big 12 cellar.

But then something happened.

A win over Texas A&M in the Big 12/SEC Challenge snapped Oklahoma State out of its funk, and the Cowboys (13-12, 3-9) have been one of the more capable teams in the league ever since.

The Pokes have won three of their past four games, including Saturday’s upset of Texas Tech. With the potential for high-quality wins over West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas still looming, there is a chance for them to play their way into NCAA tournament consideration.

No. 17 West Virginia (18-7, 6-6) will try to bring an end to those hopes Tuesday night, in part by drawing on Oklahoma State as inspiration to bust out of its current three-game losing streak.

“Everyone in West Virginia is in downer mode because we lost three in a row,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “Look at what [Oklahoma State’s] gone through. Those guys went through a lot, kept their eyes on the prize and they could conceivably get an NCAA bid or NIT bid. A couple weeks ago, that didn’t seem possible.”

Huggins indicated there will be changes to West Virginia’s starting lineup, which has remained static all year. Guard Taz Sherman is expected to be in the starting five after dropping 20 points on No. 1 Baylor in the final 10 minutes of Saturday’s 70-59 loss.

“He’s played really well in practice,” Huggins said. “He’s been our best perimeter player in practice, without a doubt.”

Oklahoma State (13-12, 3-9) at No. 17 West Virginia (18-7, 6-6)

7 p.m., WVU Coliseum


Last meeting: West Virginia won, 55-41, on Jan. 6 at Oklahoma State

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Fairmont Regional Medical Center closing

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Fairmont Regional Medical Center has notified its more than 600 physicians, nurses and staff it will be shutting down after attempts to find a new buyer for the hospital failed.

A memo explaining the closure process was distributed to hospital employees Tuesday morning during a meeting to break the news to staff. The memo stated the decision to close the hospital comes after more than a year of searching for a buyer. Several parties reportedly expressed interest in the struggling hospital but none of the discussions came to fruition.

Employees were advised they will soon receive a W.A.R.N. notice of the permanent closure of the facility and that they may not necessarily have jobs up to the final day of operation. W.A.R.N. covers a 60-day period.

A spokesperson for WVU Medicine released a statement on Tuesday regarding the Fairmont Regional Medical Center’s pending closure.

“We’re aware of the situation and are monitoring it very closely. We’re certainly concerned about the implications this could have for the residents of Marion County, as well as the hospital’s employees. Our commitment is always to ensure West Virginians have access to critical healthcare services, and as a reminder, Marion County residents have quick access to many of our services at our Fairmont Gateway Clinic and Whitehall Medical including Urgent Care,” the statement read.

In September, 2019, the hospital laid off 25 employees as part of efforts to adjust cost structure for reduced patient volumes. Hospital officials said at the time there were no plans to close the hospital.

Fairmont Regional Medical is operated by California-based Alecto Healthcare Services, which shutdown Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry in August of last year. Alecto stated those hospitals had lost more than $37 million over the prior two years.

Alecto purchased Fairmont Regional Medical Center June 2014 for $15.3 million after the hospital went into bankruptcy.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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‘Tourism Developments Districts’ near legislative passage while Harpers Ferry considers legal action

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill letting state government take the lead on big tourism projects in small primed for consideration by the full House of Delegates. It has passed the Senate already.

“I’m very heartened,” said Karen Schaufeld, CEO of SWaN Hill Top House, a $139 million project in Harpers Ferry that would be affected. “It’s an exciting time and I look forward to it being voted on fully.”

Meanwhile, town council in Harpers Ferry — most likely to be affected by the bill — has scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to discuss the “legality and constitutionality” of the bill.

So these two sides are on a collision course this week.

Contacted by telephone on Tuesday morning, Harpers Ferry Mayor Wayne Bishop said town officials are considering their legal options.

Wayne Bishop

“The legislation itself, we have good advice from our legal counsel — who doesn’t have a dog in a fight regarding anything to do with a hotel or any of that stuff, but merely good advice regarding these bills — that they are unlawful and unconstitutional in the state of West Virginia,” Bishop said.

“That’s my opinion on it, and I think that will be the council’s position. You look at it and take advice about what we need to do going forward.”

Bishop said town officials may also be willing to accept a mediation approach to the Hill Top House project that has been under discussion for more than a decade.

Across the state at the Legislature, the House Finance Committee on Tuesday morning unanimously passed the “Tourism Development Districts” bill.

That means the bill could be read for a first time on the House floor on Wednesday and — possibly — passed by the end of the week.

The act would enable the state Development Office to spearhead a project under certain conditions.

The bill would apply to Class IV municipalities of fewer than 2,000 residents. And it would apply to projects with investments of more than $25 million, in historic districts and qualifying for state tourism tax credits, which have their own requirements.

The affected municipalities would retain their local tax base.

The discussion in House Finance was an explanation of the bill followed by a few questions about how it would work.

The project most immediately affected would be Hill Top House, a historic property that was purchased by developers including Karen and Fred Schaufeld in 2007

The hangups on the project have been over how Hill Top House would interweave with the town’s zoning and the residential neighborhood where it is situated. For example, Hill Top House developers have wanted to buy and alter some public streets running through the hotel property.

Karen Schaufeld

Karen Schaufeld was among those who watched the House Finance Committee. In a hallway interview following the meeting, the Leesburg, Va., resident said she was pleased by the bill’s overwhelming passage.

“It was a unanimous vote, so that was wonderful,” Schaufeld said. “Everyone I’ve encountered here has really understood the logic, the rationality around taking a historically-sensitive project like this, fashioned with all of the input from people in the town and understood this was an important thing to happen in Harpers Ferry and in the surrounding areas.”

Asked about possible legal action by the town council, Schaufeld noted that the town’s council election remains unsettled — and headed for a Supreme Court hearing — months after residents first voted last summer.

“We’ve tried to go through the steps right. We tried to work with the town. We tried to do everything we could do to be as participatory in the process as we could,” she said.

“And I can’t speak to what they’re planning to do. I just know the will of the people is already being thwarted because the votes have not been fully counted. The town council that, I guess, may or may not decide to take some legal action is going to be taking a vote with members who may or may not be the right people sitting in those chairs.”

The bill moving through the House of Delegates has heavy sponsorship by legislators representing the Eastern Panhandle.

Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley, said the bill has overwhelming support in the Legislature.

“This is a bill for tourism in West Virginia. If we’re going to be successful as a state moving forward we have to give as many tourism opportunities as we can,” Barrett said.

“I think this bill is aimed at helping the Hill Top House in Harpers Ferry. The Town of Harpers Ferry — and specifically the mayor and town council — they have demonstrated this project is too big for them to handle. I think there are personal reasons as to why the project hasn’t gone forward, and I think it’s the state’s obligation to step in when we see something like that going on.”

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Martinsburg store with 90-year history cleaning up after fire

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A popular hardware store in business for decades in the Eastern Panhandle is recovering from a fire.

The Martinsburg Fire Department went to Boltz Hardware at 500 Winchester Avenue at 7:22 Monday evening. On scene, they found flames coming from a second floor window. The fire was contained to the second floor, which was used for storage.

The store’s Facebook page provided updates about two locally-famous store cats, Greyson and Tuff. Both were found unharmed within hours of the blaze.

“Thank you for all the prayers and good thoughts,” the post reads. “We will update everyone when we know more.”

According to their website, Boltz hit 90 years of serving the Eastern Panhandle’s hardware an gardening needs in 2019. They are also known for their customer service, classic candy, flags and wide selection of WVU merchandise.

The cause of the fire remains unclear.

This story will be updated.

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Assurances of continued Scouting follow national Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy filing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The bankruptcy filing from the Boy Scouts of America, the national organization, did not come as a surprise to the leader of the Buckskin Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

“We’ve heard talk about this for quite a while, so I think we understood that this was a real possibility,” said Jeff Purdy, Scout Executive.

Last year, his Buckskin Council of the Boy Scouts of America served 6,000 Scouts in 40 counties in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia.

“The Buckskin Council has not filed for bankruptcy. Our Council is legally separate, distinct and financially independent from the national organization,” Purdy said.

For the national organization, the filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy came early Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware amid the financial strain of lawsuits from sexual abuse survivors.

Hundreds of lawsuits were pending from past Scouts who claimed abuse at the hands of Scout leaders.

In some cases, the allegations date back decades.

The Boy Scouts of America issued an “Open Letter to Abuse Victims” that was scheduled to run in Wednesday’s USA Today.

“The Boy Scouts of America believes our organization has a social and moral responsibility to equitably compensate all victims who were abused during their time in Scouting,” BSA officials said.

“We also have a duty to carry out our mission for years to come.”

During reorganization, BSA officials said they planned to create a Victims Compensation Trust while continuing Scout programs and service projects and maintaining commitments to members, volunteers and others as permitted by bankruptcy laws.

The filing was not expected to directly affect local council assets, like those for the Buckskin Council.

“I’m proud of the organization. I think it was, obviously, a very difficult situation,” Purdy said.

“I think that the national organization is doing the right thing by addressing the concerns and the challenges of supporting victims while simultaneously trying to ensure the future of Scouting which I think is very important to the youth of our country.”

Purdy said significant steps had already been taken to implement youth protection policies.

As the BSA reorganizes, land holdings were among some of the organization’s largest assets.

The National Council of the Boy Scouts of America manages four facilities in the U.S. and Canada, including the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County, home to the National Scout Jamboree,

Also at the site’s 14,000 acres are the James C. Justice National Scout Camp, the Paul R. Christen National High Adventure Base and the John D. Tickle National Training and Leadership Center.

The next National Scout Jamboree at the Summit is scheduled for July 21-30, 2021.

A MetroNews call to the Summit was redirected to a BSA Restructuring Hotline at 1-866-907-2721.

The hotline offered information for abuse victims and their representatives, vendors, employees of the national organization, BSA retirees, Scout parents and volunteers and donors in addition to the media.

“We will not be offering interviews” was the later response to a request to speak with someone with either Boy Scouts of America or the Summit specifically.

Purdy said, from his view, the future of the Summit was secure.

“I think that place is vibrant, exciting and I’m down there several times a year. Our Scouts, our local Scouts, get to use that facility. It is a National Council facility,” he said.

“It’s a great, exciting thing to have. I think that relationship will continue and I think the Summit will be here for a long time.”

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MetroNews This Morning 2-18-20

A missing kayaker is found in Barbour County, high water blamed for a woman’s death in Summers County, a GOP tax reform plan has made it to the Senate Floor in Charleston and judicial pay raise legislation has momentum. The House Judiciary Committee rejects changes to the National Guard and a Mercer County Delegate apologizes for his actions. In Sports, a wild end to the Daytona 500. Those stories and more on today’s episode.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 2-18-20” on Spreaker.

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Missing woman’s body found in Barbour County

BARBOUR COUNTY, W.Va. — Search teams have located the body of a kayaker missing more than a week on the Middle Fork River in Barbour County.

Teams located the body of Jamie Lynn Gray, 41, of Hacker Valley, W.Va. Monday evening. She was about a mile and a half downstream from where she submerged and never resurfaces during a kayaking trip with friends on the waterway just downstream from Audra State Park.

Teams spotted the body about 3:45 p.m. Monday afternoon and she was finally recovered by a team working with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Police around 7:30 p.m.

Gray was with a team of about ten experienced kayakers shooting the rapids of the Middle Fork River back on February 9th. She went under while paddling a rapid known for large boulders and strong undercurrents. The effort to recover her body was delayed more than a week due to extremely high water conditions and high flows on the river. The effort resumed on Sunday in the area she was lost and moved downstream Monday where her body was later located.

Natural Resources Police are leading the investigation into her death.

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Monongalia County education leaders holding meetings Wednesday on facilities plan

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Monongalia County Board of Education will hold two forums Wednesday regarding its comprehensive educational facilities plan.

County boards of education are required to have a plan approved every decade.

Barbara Parsons, who is leading the planning committee, said the plans allow the district to assess their needs as well as the state to understand budgeting concerns.

“It takes the state to approve building a new school. It takes the state, in many cases, for these counties to give money for the building of schools,” she said. “If you’ve got a plan and you can show the state you have a plan, it fits rather nicely.”

Parsons said the sessions allow residents to talk about local priorities, which is especially important with the state’s limited resources.

“The state building authority had maybe $50 million to put into 55 counties that all have needs,” she noted. “It’s getting to be a smaller pool with bigger needs.”

The first meeting will be on Wednesday between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. at University High School. The second meeting will also be Wednesday, yet from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at South Middle School.

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