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Renovations, leadership among changes for Mountain State Centers for Independent Living

HUNTINGTON — Renovations have begun at Mountain State Centers for Independent Living in downtown Huntington, which is under new leadership that began Jan. 1.

Angela Adams has taken on the role as president and CEO at the organization at 821 4th Ave., as well as its Beckley location.

The nonprofit has, for over 40 years, been assisting people with disabilities in 19 counties in West Virginia through various programs. With its corporate offices in Huntington, the organization assists anyone with a disability find their greatest level of living independently, according to Adams.

“Our emphasis is helping those in need find housing, jobs, transportation, food and transitioning from nursing facilities to gain independence in their homes with ramps and bathroom modifications,” Adams said. “However, our organization encompasses a broad spectrum of advocating for the disability community. Throughout this unprecedented time with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have assisted with many emergency situations such as food insecurities, housing situations and (personal protective equipment) distributions.”

Adams had been working with Mountain State for four years before accepting her new role as president and CEO of both Mountain State Centers for Independent Living and The Foundation for Independent Living. Her career background includes over 26 years in small-business ownership.

“I’m excited to be a part of moving MTSTCIL forward in assisting our community that I’ve loved all my life,” she said. “Working every day in a city and state I love, with a wonderful, caring staff, committed board members and great clients, I’m able to pour my heart into my work each day.”

While jumping into this new role during the pandemic, Adams has been instrumental in beginning a major building renovation to the façade of Mountain State Centers for Independent Living on 4th Avenue in the historic district of Huntington.

“Our Foundation for Independent Living is restoring this building back to a similar look from 1928, when it was the first Sears location in the state,” she explained. “We are removing the façade from 1978 when it was Gold Furniture Store and adding natural light with six windows on the second and third floors. I am working alongside Phoebe Patton Randolph, an architect with Ed Tucker Architects, and her husband, Justin Randolph, who is our general contractor with Cardinal Builders Inc. They are a great team and are committed to restoring our property by coordinating the rich history with today’s needs.

“In our demolition process, we have uncovered many hidden treasures that we plan to incorporate into the design, such as gorgeous stonework on the façade, beautiful travertine tile flooring and six huge windows across the front. The building team, as well as our staff, are thrilled to have these great assets uncovered after decades of being hidden.”

Adams says the building trend in the 1970s was to cover up original bricks with modern façade designs.

“Today’s trends are bringing back those original historic features,” she said. “Additionally, there will be inside renovations that include a lobby, office rental space, and a computer lab with public Wi-Fi for our clients. I am most excited to provide a great facility where our clients can come for assistance in their time of need.”

Adams estimates that Phase II of the renovations should take approximately six months to complete.

“If people with disabilities in West Virginia would like more information about the services that Mountain State Centers for Independent Living provide, they can call 304-525-3324 in Huntington and 304-255-0122 in Beckley,” she said.

First live performance since COVID-19 pandemic set for Friday

HUNTINGTON — Live music returns to Huntington for the first time in over a year Friday with the “Mountain Stage” City of Huntington’s 150th Anniversary Celebration at 7:30 p.m. in the Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Angela Jones, director of marketing and external affairs with the Marshall Artists Series, said she’s excited for people to be able to enjoy the show since live performances have been postponed for so long.

“I hope people come out and enjoy a great evening of live music,” Jones said. “It’s been a while for people, and to be able to do something in the Joan C. Edwards Stadium is super exciting for us because it’s a new venue for us to do any kind of entertainment.”

The “Mountain Stage” event will be the first large musical performance hosted by the Marshall Artists Series since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. The show is also helping celebrate Huntington’s 150th anniversary of becoming a city, which Jones said is partly why the event will feature local indie-rock band Ona.

Ona formed in Huntington in 2013 and has grown from a small local band to a band that has toured with country singer Tyler Childers. Jones said this is not the first time Ona has performed with “Mountain Stage,” but the Marshall Artists Series wanted to include someone local for the city’s anniversary celebration.

“We don’t work with ‘Mountain Stage’ every year, but we have worked with them over the years and collaborated to help curate some of the performers,” she said. “This particular show, particularly with Ona, is because the concert is also going to be part of the City of Huntington’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, so we had hoped to get somebody from this area to represent Huntington.”

The other “Mountain Stage” performers include singer and pianist A.J. Croce, rock-and-roll and soul band St. Paul & the Broken Bones and blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland.

Jones said the performers are strong vocalists and bands with big sounds, and she is excited for people to hear the stadium filled with music.

In order to keep everyone safe, the seating will be socially distanced and limited to the west side of the stadium. Jones said the 2020 football season allowed for ample test runs on how to get people in and out of the stadium safely, and all attendees will be required to follow state and federal guidelines during the show.

Concession stands will be open, and tickets will be available for purchase the night of the event for $60. The stadium doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and attendees are allowed to park in the stadium parking lot.

With opioid trial three weeks away, sides work through final motions, logistics

CHARLESTON — A Charleston federal judge expects a trial courtroom will be limited to attorneys, witnesses and court officials as Huntington, Cabell County and opioid distributors inch toward a May trial date.

Lawsuits on behalf of the municipalities were filed in 2017 against AmerisourceBergen Corp., McKesson and Cardinal Health — the “Big Three” drug distributors — which are accused of being a public nuisance by blindly pumping pain pills into Appalachia, thus fueling opioid and later heroin addiction.

The lawsuits argue the distributors breached their duty to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates.

The sides met for a virtual pretrial hearing Wednesday to debate outstanding motions, at which time Judge David A. Faber also discussed logistics for the trial, which is set to start May 3.

Following CDC recommendations due to COVID-19, Faber said most likely only 30 people will be allowed in the courtroom at any given time. Each of the four sides will be limited to five attorneys, leaving room for only court officials and witnesses, who might also have attorneys in attendance.

An “overflow” courtroom will be available for media, members of the public and others who want to attend the trial. While several hearings have been held via video conference online, a similar feed will not be available at trial. If needed, a second overflow courtroom will be made available, he said.

Several other guidelines are being worked out as well to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Among motions argued during Wednesday’s hearing, the defendants asked Faber to limit the geographic scope allowed to be brought up at trial by the governments and testimony from the governments’ marketing experts.

In asking for the limitation, Ashley Hardin, an attorney for Cardinal Health, said there is no evidence any pills were shipped to areas outside of West Virginia. However, plaintiff attorney Paul T. Farrell Jr. pointed to the “Oxy Express” and “Blue” highways, a name made for trafficking routes into Appalachia.

Hardin argued the defendants were not participants in such highways, thus those geographic areas did not matter as far as Huntington and Cabell’s allegations. Hardin also argued that the plaintiff wanted to use national trends and distribution data to serve as a benchmark for what the distributors should have known were reasonable shipments.

Farrell argued while the defendants said national trends cannot prove anything wrong had been occurring in Cabell County, the businesses’ monitoring system was part of a systemic failure.

“What happened with the volume of pills in Huntington, Cabell County was not a mistake. It was not an isolated event,” he said. “It was the result of a systemic failure by each of the three defendants to comply with their regulatory duties to identify, block and report suspicious orders.”

In a separate motion, the defendants asked the judge to exclude testimony from several plaintiff witnesses who are expected to testify about how marketing methods led doctors to prescribe more opioids in the area.

Defendant attorneys said Ohio federal Judge Dan A. Polster found at least two of the experts are not qualified to give an opinion on marketing due to lack of experience, training or education in the field. Polster previously oversaw Huntington and Cabell County’s case before remanding it back to West Virginia. He continues to preside over hundreds of other cases.

The plaintiffs said Polster’s exclusion of what those experts could say was extremely narrow, while the defendants are asking that Faber throw out their entire testimony.

In a final motion discussed, the plaintiffs asked the judge to order the defendants to agree on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, known as ARCOS, data, which shows the number of pills that left their facilities during the height of opioid pill distribution.

Faber did not rule on any of the three motions Wednesday but said an order would be issued soon.