WEIRTON - Weirton City Council and residents alike are looking for answers regarding a proposed school-based health care facility expected to be built on campus with the new elementary school currently under construction in the city.
Council members unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday asking the Hancock County Board of Education to provide clarity on the construction and operation of the clinic. Council also requested a response be issued to City Manager Valerie Means within 30 days of the passing of the resolution to clear up any miscommunication or confusion.
According to Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh, who outlined extensive communication problems and concerns over the past year about the entrance and exit to the school along with utility hook-ups, April 2012 brought even more concerns as Hancock County Superintendent Suzan Smith announced an agreement had been reached with CHANGE Inc. to place a separate building connected to the school to be used as a health care center.
COUNCIL RESOLUTION — Mayor George Kondik explained to those in attendance at the special council meeting on Wednesday that council was seeking to pass a resolution — which passed at a 7-0 vote — requesting the Hancock County Board of Education provide clarifications on the construction and operations of a school-based health clinic. Pictured from left is Kondik and City Manager Valerie Means. -- Angelina Dickson
This announcement, he said, brought questions of who will be served; what services will be offered on what days and times; and the source of funding to complete the project. Marsh said Smith announced that any student, employee or family member of the school system would have access to the center for their medical needs and CHANGE Inc. would operate the center in similar fashion as its downtown Weirton office.
In a later meeting, Marsh said the city took issue on the entrance and buffer issue along Preston Avenue and former state Sen. Ed Bowman took issue with the effect the clinic would have on Weirton Medical Center and the private sector. Smith presented a letter of support from then Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joseph Endrich; however, shortly after that meeting letters were received from Chuck O'Brien, the hospital's current CEO, and Peggy Bahnsen, chairman of the Weirton Medical Center Board of Directors rescinding that support.
Vince DeLuzio, managing partner of R&V Associates, a consulting firm with Weirton Medical Center, addressed this confusion during the meeting. He said Endrich offered a letter of support on behalf of Weirton Medical Center without the board's knowledge or consent. He said without a straight answer as to the purpose of the facility and what role it would play in the community, the hospital could not offer support.
"Weirton Medical Center has no legal agreement with either the Hancock County Board of Education or CHANGE to be involved with this project," said DeLuzio.
DeLuzio said the hospital was under the impression that the facility would be a glorified school nurse program and nothing more; however, it later seemed to him and others that the facility would be competition with the hospital and the private sector when it comes to patient care. He said the hospital could not support something that does not specifically outline the effect it will have on the community.
Bowman said he spoke with School Building Authority Executive Director Mark Manchin, a supporter of school-based health centers, who assured him the clinic is not mandatory for the Hancock County Board of Education to obtain the $19 million grant awarded along with the bond levy that passed in 2010. He said Weirton can not afford to lose Weirton Medical Center or do anything that would cut revenue for the largest local employer.
Bowman said he was not opposed to CHANGE or what the organization does, but he does not want to see an adverse effect on the hospital. He assisted in orchestrating several meetings between the entities involved to help resolve any issues when, according to Marsh, Smith announced the School Building Authority authorized the use of the funds from the $19 million provided by the state with the voter's matching bond to construct the clinic.
No representatives of the Hancock County Board of Education were present to address questions or concerns.
City Manager Valerie Means conducted staff meetings with the Inspections Department to resolve permitting issues resulting in additional contradictory statements from both the school board and CHANGE. Means held to the city's stance that the building would be obligated under the city's review process because of the multi-use on one property and a landlord-tenant relationship.
"City Manager Means received a letter from Ms. Smith dated July 12, 2012 stating that she was recommending to her board to abandon the health care clinic," stated Marsh.
Marsh said on July 24, it was reported that Smith advised her board to approve a lease agreement with CHANGE for a $500,000 grant to build the facility on the school property. He said additional confusion was added to the mix once it was reported that the clinic would be used to educate students on proper self-care even though the city had official blue prints outlining a pharmacy, x-ray room and lab.
On July 27, the city received another letter from Smith stating the clinic was back online and she would be exercising the shield of the School Building Authority.
"I do not recall a health clinic being a part of the bond call and research is warranted as to how the clinic could fall under that premise," said Marsh. "We represent the citizens of Weirton and are obligated by law and morals to protect their interests. It is not for us to decide what type of health care is needed or not. It is our job, however, to ensure the codes of the city are adhered to and that there is truth and transparency in the administration of taxpayer's funds."
Marsh said council is in no way against the school. He said it is a much-needed development for the area as Weirton moves into the future but he doesn't want to see anything go wrong.
According to correspondence issued by CHANGE Inc. Chief Executive Officer Judy Raveaux, 67 of the 68 statewide school-based health clinics are operated by Federally Qualified Health Care Centers. She said CHANGE falls into that category.
Raveaux stated CHANGE would provide care for students, teachers and school personnel and would operate the facility with funding from the federal government, third-party insurances and Medicaid. She said additional funding would come from private foundations and charges for services would be provided on a sliding fee schedule for the uninsured and costs would be determined by household income and size in accordance with the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
In addition, Raveaux said the facility will operate within school hours and no child will be seen without parental consent. She said consent forms will be sent out at the beginning of each year and if the child has a primary care provider of record, within 24 hours of the visit they will receive a summary of the visit.
"Having a school-based health center onsite will significantly increase access to medical and mental health services and remove transportation and employment-related barriers for parents," she said. "The site will also help decrease the school enrollment process for transient students, decrease illness related to truancy and address behavioral problems."
Several residents, including Mark Zatezalo, chairman of the Weirton Redevelopment Authority, also offered their comments in support of clarity of the situation encouraging all parties work together to put Weirton's best foot forward.
(Dickson can be contacted at email@example.com)