Emily Rice Published

Unsafe Conditions Reported At West Virginia Children’s Home

A woman wearing black business attire speaks from a podium in front of a green wall.
Dr. Cynthia Persily, incoming secretary of the Department of Human Services, reports to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources.

The West Virginia Children’s Home may have serious safety issues that may need to be addressed during the upcoming legislative session.

Dr. Cynthia Persily, incoming secretary of the Department of Human Services, reported her findings from a visit to the facility in Elkins, a residential facility for children ages 12 to 18 years old who are in the custody of the state.

“One facility that has been on my mind is the West Virginia Children’s Home, which is a nonsecure residential facility for children ages 12 to 18 in Elkins,” Persily said. “It has a very small census since COVID, since the pandemic, but I was urged to visit that site to really look at that facility. It is a historic property. It was built in 1909, and it is in clear need of attention.”

She said from looking at the property, she could tell it was not ADA-compliant with no handicap accessibility.

Del. Bob Fehrenbacher, R-Wood, asked Persily if there were any “life safety issues that needed to be addressed at the facility.”

“I am concerned about the safety issues related to old windows on third floors of buildings,” Persily said. “There are a number of exposed pipes throughout the building, an old building, especially in the basement, but in the basement is also where, for instance, laundry facilities are some of the showers and some of the recreation areas. And, so, I believe, yes, there will be life safety issues whether or not they violate current residential code will be what we want to really look at.”

Persily said the facility currently houses five children. Lawmakers asked if those children could be transferred. She replied that those children are court-ordered to be at the West Virginia Children’s Home and it would be up to the courts to transfer them to another facility.

“The five children are court-ordered to that particular facility,” Persily said. “So our intention would be to work with the judge in that area.”

Lawmakers also discussed closing the facility altogether, but Persily cited state code stating West Virginia must operate an “orphanage.”

“There is some state code that might indicate that we are required to run an ‘orphanage,’ which is an old, old word, and these children are not orphans,” Persily said. “But so there is some old language in the code.”