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Parkersburg Mayor

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce speaks to the Joint Committee on Health on recovery residences Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Charleston.

CHARLESTON — Despite passing legislation to address issues, officials are still reporting negative side effects of sober living homes in their communities.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce testified the Joint Committee on Health Sunday that his city has seen an explosion of homelessness since the expansion of substance use disorder treatment and recovery homes. While the mayor had no hard data to back his claims, he said common sense points him to bad actors within the recovery system that dump people on the street when they don’t succeed in the program.

Parkersburg has 20% of the state’s treatment beds. This summer, the City Council voted to ban new treatment or recovery centers from opening in the city for about a year.

“In the beginning, we needed a rehab center. Do we need eight? No,” said Parkersburg City Council member Sharon Kuhl, according to news reports.

Joyce said Sunday he believes there needs to be a certificate of need-like process to determine the need for treatment/recovery centers based on population and other services in the area.

Joyce also said there appears to be no regulation of sober living/recovery homes. He said oftentimes people are being discharged with no plan, leaving the citizens of Parkersburg with the bill to care for them.

But there is regulation.

In 2019, the Legislature passed a bill to register sober living facilities. Only licensed facilities are able to receive state funding and referrals from state agencies.

To become certified, residences, sometimes known as sober living houses, must show they uphold industry-best practices and support a safe, healthy and effective recovery environment; evaluate the residence’s ability to assist individuals in achieving long-term recovery goals; and protect residents of drug-and alcohol-free housing against unreasonable and unfair practices in setting and collecting fee payments.

The residences also must meet municipal standards, such as fire safety codes and occupancy rates.

The West Virginia Alliance of Recovery Residences is contracted by the state to provide certification. Last session, the House Health committee worked on a piece of legislation to move the certification in-house, but those efforts stalled out to give the Alliance more time to get a better flow for the process.

“The referral changes haven’t had much time to play out,” said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, Sunday. “They need a home plan when they leave.”

The Joint committee also heard from Alan Johnson, chief assistant to the state attorney for Florida’s 15th Judicial Circuit. Johnson spoke on how Florida has combated fraud within the treatment/recovery system. Many of the things he mentioned West Virginia is already trying, including voluntary certification and banning patient brokering.

Passed last year, the patient brokering law generally prohibits individuals, health care providers, and health care facilities from receiving or paying remuneration in exchange for making or receiving patient referrals.

Pushkin said they owe it to community and the clients of these facilities are up to standards.

In a written testimony, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia said rather than attempting to legislate and regulate these residences, which are protected under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the legislature should look for ways to better serve people in recovery by helping with transitions in the recovery system.

“Any legislative action must focus on protecting at-risk communities,” the testimony reads. “Legislation that emphasizes ensuring that the people living in these homes have appropriate living conditions and resources will be looked at less critically than legislation that is aimed at limiting the number or location of these residences or regulating them to the same effect.”

Taylor Stuck is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch, covering state government, health and higher education. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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