June Leffler Published

Report: Grim Pattern of Abuse, Neglect Cited At Care Facilities for the Behaviorally Challenged

A disturbing report from the state’s Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification describes a crisis of abuse and neglect at behavioral health centers across West Virginia.

The OHFLAC, an oversight body, says more needs to be done at state-funded facilities to protect live-in patients, who have severe behavioral, mental, or addiction issues.

There are more than 200 publicly funded, privately run residential facilities in the state.

The report, released on Monday, described patterns of mistreatment and neglect at these centers that occurred within the last four years. Those included delaying necessary medical treatment, constraining and punishing patients in abusive ways, and letting patients live in filthy, broken homes.

The report also cites incidents of preventable deaths. Those include reports of clients choking to death, overdosing on a staff member’s personal medications, and dying in a “fiery crash” after stealing a facility vehicle. Those deaths happened in Cabell County, Mineral County, and Kanawha County respectively.

The findings were presented to state lawmakers sitting on the Health and Human Resources Accountability Committee.

“I’m just absolutely, totally disgusted,” Del. Matthew Rohrbach of Cabell County told West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “How in the world can we have our most vulnerable citizens treated this way?”

Rohrbach said he needs more answers from the Department of Health and Human Resources and those operating the residential facilities.

OHFLAC Director Jolynn Marra told lawmakers Monday that the sites can’t simply be shut down because people live there. Instead, her office is trying to work with providers to fix their problems.

“When we close a [facility] those beds are gone,” Marra said “Rather than closing them, we are visiting them more often.”

OHFLAC has put in place admission bans for facilities, which prevents them from taking new clients.