By Mannix Porterfield
A highly critical legislative audit, unwrapped Sunday, called for the replacement of Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley, saying the cost of repairs at the long-term care facility would far exceed building a new one.
Bearing the name of the late Raleigh County delegate who toiled for health care improvements while in the House, the facility was erected eight decades ago as a tuberculosis sanitarium.
In the 1970s, it was converted to a long-term care hospital but serves only 84 patients, far below the 655 it was intended to treat for tuberculosis.
In the report, detailed by John Sylvia, director of the Performance Evaluation & Research Division of the legislative auditor’s office, it is noted that running Jackie Withrow Hospital costs between $1.5 million and $2 million more per year than three other state-run facilities — Hopemont, Lakin and John C. Manchin Sr. hospitals.
In fact, Sylvia told the Joint Committee on Government Operations and Organization, the cost-per-patient at the Beckley facility is $26,000 above that of the other three hospitals.
The structure contains 208,000 square feet and is far more space than is needed for its current usage, he told the legislators.
Sylvia said the Bureau of Behavioral Health and Human Facilities needs to “immediately” complete and file a plan for building a new facility on the same grounds.
Inspections exposed “a great deal of deterioration in various parts of this hospital,” noting the 102-page report contained color photographs depicting the ruinous state.
“The significant depreciation is primarily because this facility was built in the 1930s,” Sylvia said. “One of the problems is that this facility is so large.”
And that, he emphasized, leads to higher utility costs in keeping warm a hospital for so comparatively few patients, far below the number it was meant to serve.
On an annual basis, the heating bill runs up to some $197,000, he pointed out.
Sylvia told the committees that ZDS Design/Consulting Services of St. Albans studied the structure and concluded it would cost $26.9 million to finance repairs, excluding asbestos abatement.
In contrast, a new hospital built on a smaller scale and accommodating its patient numbers would run about $20.6 million, he said.
The Board of Risk and Insurance Management, in an inspection report dated April 26, found 26 areas of concern that required attention. Three of them were considered critical — the sprinkler piping system in the basement at “A” wing wasn’t in compliance with National Fire Safety Association standards, electrical boxes were unsecured, and panic hardware on doors had been incorrectly installed.
Another option considered was to move patients to private facilities, but PERD said one reason families put members in Jackie Withrow is that such homes either cannot or are unwilling to attend to special needs.
What’s more, the report said, private facilities tend to provide skilled care billed to Medicare rather than long-term support services offered by the state.
If a new facility is erected, the report said the state might have to borrow money by issuing bonds. The auditor’s office also looked at privatizing long-term care but felt that an entirely new building is the best approach, and the BBHHF agreed.
In the lengthy report, PERD used photographs to show existing steam valves are failing, the kitchen ventilation system fails to meet current code, the electrical switchboards, pane boards and other such components are obsolete, and the basement needs a new sprinkler system.
Other deficiencies outlined include a need to replace fire doors, walls are in varying states of disrepair, almost all drains and pipes should be replaced, and roof failures have spawned water damage in the ceilings.
The report found that floors throughout Jackie Withrow should be replaced and that concrete ledges around the outside are crumbling.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org