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Mason County hospital announces cutbacks

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — A Mason County hospital announced this week that it plans to eliminate 53 positions when it discontinues obstetric services at the end of the month.

About half of the reduction at Pleasant Valley Hospital in Point Pleasant will be done through retirements, attrition, leaving current vacancies unfilled and cutting part-time hours.

“Regretfully, 25 employees will be displaced,” the hospital said in a news release.

“After careful analysis and forecasting, PVH will discontinue obstetric services, effective Friday, Feb. 28, 2020,” the press release stated. “This difficult decision comes in response to the declining number of births at PVH while operating costs have continued to rise. With the increasing median age in Mason and surrounding counties, fewer women are of childbearing age and that trend is projected to further decrease over the coming years. In addition, PVH had to consider that over 75% of expectant mothers in Mason and surrounding areas are choosing to deliver their babies at other area hospitals.”

“We understand that obstetrics units have strong ties to communities, and we have truly appreciated the privilege to serve thousands of area families over many years,” Jeff Noblin, CEO of PVH, said in the release. “We are collaborating with area maternity centers to transition expectant mothers. PVH’s Emergency Department physicians and staff are prepared to handle emergency deliveries, and women’s gynecologic health services will continue to be provided at the PVH Center for Women’s Health.”

“Our employees are valued members of the Pleasant Valley family, and our hearts go out to those who will be affected by this necessary reduction,” Dr. James Lockhart, chairman of the PVH board of directors, said in the release that hospital leaders and human resources “will do all they can to assist affected employees, including working with our healthcare partners in the area to identify employment opportunities.”

The hospital’s plans also call for closing the neurology practice and taking several other steps designed to generate funds to build out and strengthen other services.

“We are facing many challenges in the current healthcare environment that affect operations, including lower reimbursements and an increasing number of patients who are underinsured or uninsured,” Lockhart said in the release. “These decisions are difficult, but by addressing these challenges now, we can not only make improvements in the short-term, but also position the hospital for future growth and success.”

“We believe that by implementing this plan we will position the hospital for future success,” Noblin added. “It will enable PVH to better focus on core services and meet the growing needs of seniors. PVH will continue to invest in state-of-the-art medical imaging services, nationally-recognized orthopedic services, and world-class cancer care.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said in a statement Wednesday that he has instructed Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, to offer any support the facility needs at this time.

Justice added that he met with health care stakeholders to begin the process of creating a rural medicine task force to study the issue.

“The road that led us to what we have seen in recent months — community hospitals across our state shrinking or closing altogether — started a long time ago,” Justice said in the statement. “But now it’s our responsibility to look under every rock for solutions.”

In the last year, hospitals have closed in Bluefield, Richwood and Wheeling. Williamson Memorial Hospital filed for bankruptcy in October, and a nonprofit system that operates hospitals in Charleston and South Charleston announced last month it planned to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy but would remain open.

Officials also recently announced that Our Lady of Bellefonte hospital in Ashland, Kentucky, near Huntington, would shut down later this year.

Man who crashed into pizzeria pleads guilty

HUNTINGTON — A Huntington man who crashed into a downtown Huntington pizzeria last month entered guilty pleas Thursday to that incident and another.

Tanner Austin Miller, 24, of Huntington, was charged with obstructing, fleeing on foot, fleeing and driving on a suspended or revoked license for DUI and fleeing with reckless indifference for the Jan. 6, 2020, chase through downtown Huntington. That chase ended with Miller crashing his vehicle into the 4th Avenue Husson’s Pizza.

Miller was also charged with active warrants in a Dec. 24, 2019, chase, also in Huntington. Those charges included obstructing, no registration, fleeing with reckless indifference, driving on a suspended or revoked license for DUI and third-offense driving on a suspended or revoked license for DUI.

Miller pleaded guilty in Cabell Circuit Court to three counts in the two separate incidents.

First, Miller pleaded guilty to fleeing with reckless indifference in the Jan. 6 incident. He was given an enhanced sentence by Judge Alfred Ferguson of two to five years in jail on that count because of his previous history of fleeing from police.

“I know I really messed up,” Miller told the judge. “Facing the music is something I have trouble with, so when I have a confrontation with law enforcement I tend to run.”

Miller also pleaded guilty to driving on a suspended or revoked license for DUI and obstructing regarding the Dec. 24, 2019 incident, and was sentenced to six months on each charge.

All other charges in connection with both incidents were dropped as part of the plea deal.

Ferguson said all three sentences will run concurrently.

Miller was also on parole on a one- to five-year sentence after pleading guilty in Cabell County Circuit Court to fleeing in a vehicle with reckless indifference in a Sept. 9, 2018, chase.

“You will probably have to max out that sentence now,” Ferguson told Miller.

The judge also commented on Miller’s extensive criminal history, which included several other misdemeanor and felony charges.

“When you get out of jail, you really need to change your lifestyle,” the judge told Miller. “You seem to have no regard for the law.”

Joyce Spencer: Community news for Friday, Feb. 14

Community News

Scouting: Scouting was celebrated across the country by United Methodist churches on Scout Sunday, Feb. 9, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of supporting and sponsoring Scout troops. An area church, Steele Memorial United Methodist of Barboursville, invited Scout troops that it sponsors — Troop 88, Troop 733, and Cub Scout Pack 733 — to participate in the morning worship service. The Cub Scout Pack passed out bulletins and greeted people while all three troops held a flag ceremony that included reciting the Scout oath and Scout law. In appreciation of the church’s sponsorship, the three troops served a pancake breakfast to the congregation. Members of Troop 88 are: Brianna Crum, Jennifer Hile, Joshua Salmons, Alex Tooley, Zack Lewis, Andy Chapman, Randy Bias, Nathan Childers, Austin Hendrickson, and Ronnie Bennett. Scoutmaster is Mark Salmons. Members of Cub Scout Pack 733 are: Zach Williams, Dawson Cremeans, Karsen Cremeans, Michael Fincham, Sawyer Ferguson, Owen Ferguson, Cole Baisden, Rhett Hoover, Jacob Dearth, and Alex Mast. Cubmaster is Melissa Spurlock. Members of Troop 733 are: Joseph Swain, Kyelin Green, Tyson Cremeans, Gabe Ferguson, Will Pitkin, Jamie Morton, Will Day, Mahir Irtza, Jack Michels, and Ellis Ciccollela. Cubmaster is Bryan Workman.

Students: Cabell Midland High School students selected as February students of the month by the Rotary Club of Barboursville are senior Dylan Jenkins, son of Tonya Jenkins of Huntington; junior Adam Holton, son of Robert and Wilma Holton of Salt Rock; sophomore Marianna Spoor, daughter of John Spoor of Barboursville; and freshman Bailey Lewis, daughter of Steve and Kim Lewis of Huntington. The students were recognized at a weekly luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club.

Officers: New officers of the Cabell County Democratic Women’s Club for 2020–2022 were sworn in by past president Susan Hubbard at the Jan. 25 luncheon at the Moose Lodge, Eastern Heights Shopping Center, in Huntington. Officers are Betty Stepp, president; Sheila Hauser, 1st vice president; Janet Artrip, 2nd vice president; Monika Rowe, recording secretary; Nancy Eplin, corresponding secretary; Kay Stewart, treasurer; Jamie McCumbee, parliamentarian; Betty McClure, historian; and Kitty Kelly-Smoot, chaplain. Congratulations to new parents Landen and Bobbi Hillman, whose daughter, Evelyn “Evee” Marie, was born on Jan. 19, 2020. She has a big brother, Samuel. Her grandparents are Joe and Tia Daulton of Huntington.

Craft Show: Applications are now available for crafters and direct sales vendors who are interested in the Pea Ridge United Methodist Women’s Easter arts and crafts show on March 21 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Pea Ridge United Methodist Church, 5747 East Pea Ridge Road, Huntington. For applications and more information, contact Sue Workman at 304-412-5433.

Dinner: Support the Cabell Midland Knights boys’ basketball team by enjoying a spaghetti dinner on Sunday, Feb. 16, in the Cabell Midland High School cafeteria from noon to 5 p.m. for $5 per person. Several raffle prizes will be offered and delivery will be available for 10 or more orders by calling 304-617-1014.

Tournament: Kudos to Cabell Midland High School students Lorelei Smith and Zoey Salmons for their championship wins at the West Virginia Girls’ Invitational Wrestling Tournament.

WVU: Congratulations to Cabell Midland High School senior Jackson Oxley, who signed on Wednesday, Feb. 12, to play football at West Virginia University during his college years. His parents are Perry and Kelli Oxley.

Fundraiser: Plan for an evening of fun at the vintage Longaberger Basket Bingo on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m. at HIMG (enter in back at Door P). The fundraiser will benefit Honor Flight Huntington. Cost is $20 for 20 games, payable at the door. Door prizes, a raffle basket and a 50/50 will be offered. Refreshments will be available for purchase. For more information, call Patty Dickey at 304-208-1200.

Dancing: Enjoy an evening of ballroom dancing on Friday, Feb. 21, from 6:30 until 9:30 p.m. at the Barboursville Community Center, 721 Central Ave., for $15 per person. Contact DJ Dick Newman at 304-736-5380 or DNBL@msn.com for more information.

Birthday: Happy birthday this week to Jim Waugh, Joe Fralic, Anna Smith, Jeff Chapman, Cody Braley, Pauline Adkins, Rose Thornburg, John Workman, Sue Workman, Steve Chapman, Harvey Morrison, Mark Call, Ernestine Blake, Joshua Pannell, Cooper Smith, Cathi Collins, Bill Peyton, Jacob Simpkins, Andrew Short, Jim Thornburg, Jim Setzer, Brenda Kuhl, Carol Arkell, Pam Banks, Debby Adkins, Meghan Johnson, Pauletta Shafer Lewis, John Thomas, Victoria Bratlee, Brenda Burcham, Kris Pack, Julie Turner, Jackie Napier, Carlene La Pointe, Stephen Napier, Val Johnson, Tamara Cantrell, Jean Riggio, Sandy Hinchman, John Salyers, Jan Dzierzak, and Sherry Noe.

Birthday: Special birthday wishes to Shorty Maynard who celebrated his 80th birthday Monday; to Calvin Thomas whose 67th birthday was Tuesday; and to Jim Walker who celebrates his birthday today.

Anniversaries: Couples celebrating wedding anniversaries this week are Randy and Lisa Rhoades, II, Frank and Karen Boggess, Bill and Nancy Hampton, Jerry and Katrina Zornes, Roger and Sandy Hinchman, Mike and Brenda Saunders, and Wayne (Buck) and JoAnn Perry who celebrate their 37th anniversary on Feb. 18.

Professor: Strong communities is the best drug prevention method


CHARLESTON — In the 1990s, Iceland realized it had a problem.

The country’s youth were drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and marijuana, and landing in substance use disorder treatment in their 20s, or else graduating to stronger substances. They led European nations in drug use.

So they decided to change how they do prevention, and that model is now being implemented in West Virginia, through the efforts of Icelandic native and current West Virginia University professor Alfgeir L. Kristjansson.

“You’ll notice the model doesn’t mention drugs,” Kristjansson told the House Select Committee on the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse Thursday. “It’s all about strengthening communities.”

Iceland, like West Virginia and the rest of the U.S., relied on instructional programming in the school system to do all drug prevention education, which Kristjansson said runs under the assumption you can teach an individual to say no to drugs. Most of those programs don’t work, the professor said.

The Icelandic model works to address the societal reasons that are proven to lead to substance abuse. The model focuses on strengthening four core areas that help shape an individual: family, peers, school and leisure time.

The first step is building capacity and finding local people to work with. Then it’s on to data collection. Kristjansson said he wants to wake up communities, and doing that requires hyper-local data. So, if the model was being implemented in west Huntington, for example, he would not use West Virginia data or even Cabell County data, but work to gather new information specific to the west Huntington community.

With data in hand, the community can then formulate goals and plans to address the issues and work toward long-term change. For example, a community may find it is lacking in after-school programming, especially for low-income families. One solution would be to allow schools to be open after hours for community use, which is something the state Legislature has attempted to do in recent years with no success.

“There is nothing about the character of an individual child that makes them more likely to try substances,” Kristjansson said. “It has everything to do with where they are from, who is around them and what opportunities they have in their lives.”

Iceland now has some of the lowest rates of substance abuse among youth in Europe. According to a “The Atlantic” article, the percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42% in 1998 to 5% in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17% to 7%. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23% to just 3%.

“No six-month education program is going to produce those numbers,” Kristjansson said.

Kristjansson believes the model can work in West Virginia, which is similarly rural and homogeneous like Iceland. Thanks to a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he is bringing the model to Fayette and Wyoming counties. They already have begun data collection and will soon work with the communities to establish goals.

Kristjansson stressed it is not a program, but a collaborative. Without the direct support from the community, it won’t work.

“We don’t like being told what to do,” he said. “We want our community to raise us well and give us opportunities to succeed.”

Committee chair Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said the resulting data was stunning, and affirmed his belief that “idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.” Rohrbach has asked his counsel and support staff to continue to study the Icelandic model, particularly how it works in the two pilot counties, and how they can expand it across the state.

Thursday’s meeting was the final scheduled meeting of the select committee unless Senate bills are assigned there.