County commission: We can’t control health dept. decisions

BUCKHANNON — Aside from appointing its members, the Upshur County Commission has no control over the decisions of the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department board.

That was the answer that came back to the question of whether the commission had authority to suspend a controversial harm reduction/syringe access program that’s held once a month at the health department through a partnership with the Morgantown-based free health clinic, Milan Puskar Health Right.

At the commission’s June 28 meeting, dozens of local residents poured into the commission’s meeting room to express their opposition to the syringe access component of the harm reduction program, which distributes a monthly supply of needles to intravenous drug users in an attempt to prevent the outbreak of blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and HIV. The harm reduction program has been developed in the wake of rising opioid crisis in the Mountain State. According to health department officials, West Virginia has recently been ranked number one in new cases of Hepatitis B.

During the June 28 meeting, residents and church leaders delivered a petition that included more than 500 signatures asking that more stringent guidelines be implemented to govern the syringe access program. In response, the commission said it would consult the Charleston-based law firm it has on monthly retainer,
Kay, Casto & Chaney.

At Thursday’s meeting, assistant county administrator Tabatha Perry said she’d spoken with William Swann, a lawyer at the firm.

“I spoke with William Swann, an attorney at Kay, Casto & Chaney, and he reviewed over West Virginia code and has confirmed that, as the Upshur County Commission, you do not have authority or control over the local health department,” Perry said. “You simply appoint members to the board of health.”

Commission president Sam Nolte said Swann’s opinion confirmed what the commission had suspected.

“That’s what we had thought. I appreciate that,” Nolte said to Perry.

The syringe access initiative is one component of the larger L.I.G.H.T. — an acronym for Living in Good Health Together — harm reduction program, which also offers counseling and social services; help accessing primary care doctors; wound care; connections and referrals to drug treatment programs; and access to Naloxone, a life-saving opioid antagonist that has the power to reduce heroin and opioid overdoses.

The health board is comprised of five members, each of whom serve five-year terms; three members are appointed by the county commission and two by Buckhannon City Council.

A regularly scheduled health board meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday — after The Record Delta’s press deadline — was moved to the Event Center at Brushy Fork to accommodate the large crowd expect to attend to speak both for and against the syringe access program.

Before adjourning, the commission also:

* Received correspondence from Gov. Jim Justice announcing the STOP Violence Against Women Act grant award to the commission in the amount of $27,618. The funds provide for the enhancement and continuation of the Upshur County STOP team to improve the criminal justice system’s response to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence.

The commission approved and signed the STOP Violence Against Women grant program contract agreement and additional paperwork.

* Approved and signed the W.Va. Voluntary Remediation agreement for investigation and remediation activities for the Upshur County Youth Camp Archery Range project.

* Approved and signed an order form from Verdin Company Tower Clock order form in the amount of $12,195 for the repair of the clock tower.

* Approved the reappointment of J.J. Ford to the Buckhannon-Upshur Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for a two-year term; Ford’s term will now expire June 30, 2020.

* Received correspondence from Upshur County Schools superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus reappointing Hannah Lively to the Upshur County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for another two-year term ending June 30, 2020.

* Approved the reappointment of Upshur County Development Authority president Kathy McMurray and Emiel Butcher of Micrologic to the UCDA Board, with their terms beginning on July 1, 2018 and expiring June 30, 2021.

The next meeting of the commission is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 19 in the Upshur County Courthouse Annex.


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