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Six agencies meet new foster care standards
Cabell County has two among first to meet guidelines

CHARLESTON — As the state continues to reform its foster care system, two organizations in Cabell County caring for foster youth in West Virginia are among the first in the state to meet the new rigorous standards to receive federal funding under the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Cammack Children's Center and Pressley Ridge, along with four residential treatment programs in other parts of the state, have met the standards to be a designated qualified residential treatment program, or QRTP, said Laura Barno, director of Family First Implementation at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, on Monday during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health. The six facilities have a combined 40 beds.

Under Family First, which was passed last year, group homes can only receive a Title IV-E reimbursement for two weeks unless they are a QRTP, which must follow an approved, trauma-informed model of care, or if they serve a few specific populations of youth, such as pregnant teens. QTRPs will house children with more severe emotional and behavioral problems.

To be an approved QRTP, homes must meet standards set by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families clearinghouse.

Barno said the division is working with other treatment centers in the state and will have a second phase of applications within the year.

During the committee meeting, legislators raised concerns about only having 40 beds while approximately 400 children are being housed out-of-state.

Barno said the hope is other changes through Family First and the state's new memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice will reduce the number of children living in residential treatment facilities.

The goal of Family First is to keep more children in the home by placing more

emphasis and funding on community and in-home services that work with families at-risk of entering the child welfare system. Title IV-E funds, come October, can be used to take a parent to substance use disorder treatment, for example.

This will pair with a new Children with Serious Emotional Disorders waiver which will also provide more services to families struggling before they reach their breaking point, said Cindy Beane, with DHHR.

Beginning in January, the waiver will be available for up to 500 children, increasing to 2,000 by 2022. Beane said youth in psychiatric treatment facilities and residential treatment facilities will be prioritized.

The waiver would pay for services such as in-home family therapy, crisis response, case management, specialized therapy, job development and non-medical transportation.

Beane said an example of who might qualify is a teen with bipolar disorder who is struggling in school or a child with depression who cuts himself or herself. Beane said 30% of children in DHHR's Safe at Home program qualify for the waiver.

"Speaking from personal experience, I had a friend who was struggling with her teenage daughter," Beane said. "She got to the point where it was just 1 can't do this anymore.' If we had these services, it might not have gotten to that point."

All of this coincides with the state's new memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice. In 2015, the DOJ determined the state was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act because it was removing too many children with disabilities from their home. In May, DHHR and the DOJ entered into a memorandum of understanding which states DHHR is committed to continuing efforts to provide more community services and to ensure they are accessible statewide.

As part of this plan, DHHR is committed to reducing the number of children living in residential treatment facilities by 25% by Dec. 31, 2022, and in the following two years the department will strive for the national average, said Cammie Chapman, general counsel for DHHR.

During the committee meeting, legislators also heard an update on DHHR's transition to a managed care model for foster children. Five organizations have indicated interested, said DHHR deputy secretary Jeremiah Samples. Bids will open in August and a decision will be made by September. The contract will total about $200 million.

The managed care organization will manage healthcare and services for 19,000 individuals. Socially necessary services have been carved out from the MCO's functions for the time being after several comments from the public expressing concerns about how those would be handled, Samples said.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Four graduate drug court, capitalize on second chances

HUNTINGTON — Cabell County Judge Gregory Howard said it's satisfying to give someone a second chance and then watch them succeed, knowing the uphill battle they faced to get there.

One woman became known as a runner, but wowed her counselors by facing her addiction head-on. Another woman became a model drug court participant after finding motivation in her children. One man was facing prison time, but defied a bad reputation by working hard at his job. One woman overcame her resistance to the program and then found courage within herself to inspire others.

They joined an exclusive group of people who graduated from more than 52 weeks of the Cabell County Drug Court program. Of the hundreds of people who

enter the program throughout the year, only about 50% make it to see graduation. Those who routinely fail to meet the program's strict standards are sent back to jail, ending any hope of a second chance.

"You give them that chance, they grab hold of it and then they get through a yearlong program and be successful. That is very rewarding," Howard said. "It makes coming to drug court every week kind of special and makes you feel like you are making a difference."

Howard said Sandra Writesel made him look at those who run from the program differently. Writesel had been placed in jail and recommended for drug court. Before she could enter, however, she ran from police and was apprehended about two weeks later. She was found by Cabell County Sheriff's Deputies hiding in a closet.

"We typically don't take people who run, but she has opened our eyes to giving second chances to people who are on on the run," Howard said. "She has been amazing in this program."

Howard said he witnessed Writesel undergo a behavioral change.

"It's been a journey that really didn't think I would be standing there," Writesel said. "I have always been a runner, no matter what went at me, I never wanted to stay in one place. I'm here now and I can't wait to see what the next chapter brings me."

For Tessa Dolan, Howard said she impressed those in the program by keeping up with requirements and rarely getting into trouble.

"For so long you have been a model drug court person," Howard said. "You have been an example for a lot of the women who have come into the program since you and how drama-free you a have been for such a long time."

Dolan said everyone in the program has helped get her life back, giving her a relationship with her family again.

"My support system, my mom and my dad, they have been amazing," Dolan said. "I want to thank you guys for having faith in me, having my back and making it possible, mom, for me to come back into my children's life fully."

Probation Officer Matt Meadows said Richard Maze was facing prison time, but was given a second chance thanks to the efforts of his attorney, Shawn Bartram.

"Richard is one of those guys who came into the program, he kept his nose to the grindstone and worked constantly, not just a 15 hours a week kind of job, but a full-time job," Howard said.

Probation Officer Faren Block said Cassandra Spurlock was quite a talker when she entered the program, sometimes talking more than she would listen. A light bulb went off on for how she could succeed in sobriety, she said.

"Everything they got me to do was for good purpose," Spurlock said. "Before today I would have never admitted that, but today it's the truth. They truly care and without them and without God, I wouldn't be here right now."

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

Peak season nears for viruses from mosquitoes
Public health monitoring for viruses like West Nile, La Crosse and others

HUNTINGTON — As the region nears its typical peak season for mosquito-borne illness, West Virginia's public health officials are continuing to monitor for viruses in mosquito populations across the state.

Mosquitoes are most active from May through October, with the majority of mosquito-borne illnesses occurring in the warmest, wettest months.

The local health department tests mosquitoes caught in traps throughout the county — including 27 sites just in Cabell County — in conjunction with the West Virginia Office of Laboratory Studies. The department also will investigate any complaints of heavy mosquito activity.

Mosquitoes are screened for diseases like the West Nile Virus, La Crosse encephalitis and the Zika virus. There have so far been no cases of those diseases in West Virginia this year, according to data from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

The West Nile virus, a relatively common disease, was found in several groups of mosquitoes in Cabell County last summer. Cabell County also confirmed cases in 2017 and 2015 in the mosquito population, and West Virginia's only case of human-contracted West Nile for 2017, according to DHHR.

West Nile virus can cause symptoms like fever, headache, body ache, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea or rashes, though the disease commonly presents no symptoms in an infected person. Individuals older than 60 are typically more affected.

In rare cases, the virus may develop into a more serious illness, like encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to hospitalization or, in rare cases, death.

Neither La Crosse nor Zika was found in Cabell County over the past two years.

Compared to other states, West Virginia typically has a much lower incidence of mosquito-borne illnesses. In 2012 — a high outlier for West Nile — only 10 cases were confirmed in West Virginia, compared with 5,674 cases across the nation that year.

La Crosse is the most common mosquito-borne illness endemic in West Virginia,

according to DHHR — with around 10 to 20 reported cases of La Crosse in West Virginia each year.

La Crosse causes inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) which causes nausea, headache, vomiting and in serious cases seizures, paralysis and permanent brain damage.

There have been four cases of dengue fever and one case of malaria reported in West Virginia this year, though all those cases are travel-related, according to DHHR. This is defined as West Virginia residents contracting the disease in countries where the diseases are more common and returning home.

Mosquito-borne illnesses cannot be spread by casual human-to-human contact.

Mosquito bites are largely avoidable, and the health department is encouraging residents to take precautions to avoid contracting the disease.

"Human cases of La Crosse encephalitis usually occur in areas with water-filled containers breeding mosquitoes," said Forrest Wamsley, a registered sanitarian at the Cabell Huntington Health Department.

Eliminating standing water where mosquitoes breed, particularly around the home, is key to limiting the risk for mosquito bites. This includes emptying standing or stagnant water from old tires, pails, barrels, cans, bottles, wading pools, flower pots and other containers. Residents also can clean out clogged gutters and drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers.

Wearing long sleeves and pants outside also prevents mosquitoes from biting exposed skin. Insect repellents are also effective, specifically those that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin and clothing when outdoors, the health department states.

For more information or to contact the health department for an heavy mosquito infestation, call 304-523-6483 or visit

"Human cases of La Crosse encephalitis usually occur in areas with waterfilled containers breeding mosquitoes."

Forrest Wamsley

Registered sanitarian at the Cabell Huntington Health Department


The Cabell-Huntington Health Department advises following the "4 Ds" to protect against mosquito bites:

• Dress: Wear long sleeves and long pants when outdoors.

• Deter: Always use insect repellents when outdoors.

• Dusk: Avoid peak mosquito hours during the day, typically dawn and dusk.

• Drain: Remove all standing water around your home.