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West Virginia bill would regulate opening, expansion of treatment centers

West Virginia Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, left, speaks with St. Joseph Recovery Center Program Director Jordan Granus, center, and CEO Donna Meadows about the long-term, medication-assisted substance abuse treatment program in a patient room during a May 2019 open house at the facility. (File Photo)

PARKERSBURG — State Delegate John Kelly plans to introduce legislation requiring the approval of the West Virginia Health Care Authority before a drug or alcohol abuse treatment center can open or expand.

“We need to stop this influx,” said Kelly, R-Wood.

There are 283 state-licensed treatment beds in Wood County, 203 of them within the city limits of Parkersburg, according to statistics from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and local facilities. That’s up from 30 in the space of five years.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said he supports addiction treatment for Mid-Ohio Valley residents, but he believes there is a correlation between the increase in treatment facilities and a rise in homelessness and property crimes.

“I think there needs to be some review as to how many beds we have versus how many we need,” he said.

The Health Care Authority reviews proposals to add or expand health care services to determine whether they are needed and not duplicated. A certificate of need from the authority is required before many such efforts can proceed.

But legislation in 2017 exempted drug and alcohol treatment facilities from this requirement. Entities wanting to open such facilities must apply for the exemption, which is granted if they are providing drug and alcohol treatment services.

It was one of multiple steps taken to address the rising drug epidemic in the Mountain State.

“We didn’t have any place for these people to go to get help,” said Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources “was being forced to send people out of state and pay the cost for out-of-state rehab.

“It was a situation where we didn’t have anything, then all of a sudden we got a bunch,” he said.

Kelly’s bill would remove the exemption for drug and alcohol treatment operations, meaning the opening of a new facility or addition of beds would require a certificate of need.

In Parkersburg alone, St. Joseph Recovery Center opened in 2019 in the former St. Joseph’s Hospital, offering 86 treatment beds. Last year, Clean & Clear Advantage brought 75 beds to the former federal building downtown.

Combined with Westbrook Health Services’ 42 in the city and Harmony Ridge Recovery Center’s 80 at Mountwood Park, Wood County has approximately 18 percent of the licensed treatment beds in the state.

However, the county does not have 18 percent of the state’s population, said state Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood.

“The good side is there are a lot of compassionate ministries and rehab homes here; the bad side is Wood County ends up with a lot of addicts, which increases crime,” he said.

Joyce said the Legislature needs to take action. City officials are looking at what steps they can take to address the issue, he said, but their options are limited since treatment programs are exempt from local and state zoning regulations because addiction is classified as a disability.

“We have our fair share and then some,” Joyce said. “My focus is to make sure we don’t get any more of it.”

Jordan Granus, program director at St. Joseph Recovery Center, said she believes having treatment resources is a good thing for communities, but removing the exemption is appropriate.

“It is allowing too many facilities to open up,” she said. “When you’re in a concentrated area like this, it creates workforce issues.”

Westbrook CEO Kevin Trippett said they are also having trouble filling vacant positions and with staff moving from one facility to another. He agreed that including substance use disorder treatment facilities in the certificate of need process makes sense.

“It’s important to have someone review the expansion of services to make sure those services are needed in the area,” he said. “We know there are some concerns in the community about the number of SUD beds. Westbrook has seen a slight decrease in our average daily census, but we don’t know if that is related to the expansion of available beds or is COVID-19 related.”

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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