PARKERSBURG - The executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department is concerned the opinions and actions of another West Virginia health department will affect the entire state.
Dick Wittberg said he attended the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health meeting June 6 to ask the members to look at recent decisions and comments they have made.
"I attended their meeting and spoke during the public comments section, where anyone can speak," Wittberg said. "I asked them to consider the repercussions of their actions and comments."
In May, the Kanawha board split from West Virginia Local Health Inc., a nonprofit organization that distributes grant money to state health departments. The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department left the organization, citing ethics concerns.
"I'm just sitting on the peripheral of the issue, but it seems to me that the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is accusing Local Health Inc. of some evil and nasty things without having all of the information to make these decisions," said Wittberg, who attended the meeting as a concerned citizen, not a representative of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. The local department is a member of West Virginia Local Health Inc.
"I think the board is trying to start a media war against Local Health by making rash decisions of leaving Local Health and making negative comments without any kind of ethics ruling," he said. An ethics ruling against the organization is expected later this summer.
"It concerns me the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is grandstanding," Wittberg said.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, alleged the nonprofit is mishandling federal funds by granting most of the money received to health departments with representatives on the Local Health board. In April, members of the Kanawha board voted to withdraw from the $1.2 million federal grant program and last month left the group altogether.
"I simply asked the board members to look at their decisions," Wittberg said. "I didn't call them names. I just asked for rationality in what they are doing.
Wittberg said the circus created by the Kanawha board's comments and actions could hold negative repercussions for all 49 health departments throughout the state.
"What they have done and said could affect our ability to pull money into area and state health departments," he said.
"You can't help but wonder, if you were one of the people making grant decisions and read comments about grant funding from a health department in that state, would you award money to another organization in that state? It would certainly make you look long and hard if that money would be appreciated."