Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Court Upholds Orders in Psych Hospitals Case

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Court Upholds Orders in Psych Hospitals Case

Article excerpt

The West Virginia Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed several orders issued by Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom in a long-running case focused on the care of patients at West Virginia's two state- run psychiatric hospitals. In the opinion, written by Justice Allen Loughry, the court notes that the state Department of Health and Human Resources failed to comply with several of Bloom's orders and says the circuit court's ability to require DHHR to comply with previous orders is "beyond dispute.

"The DHHR's pattern of failing to fulfill its commitments and obligations undermines the efficacy of such agreements and further serves to discourage negotiation-based resolution, Loughry wrote. "Despite being held in contempt for its failure to develop a plan for immediate implementation after years of noncompliance, the DHHR continues to assert that the plan it developed was offered only to purge the contempt, but it was not its preferred course of action.

The opinion is part of the E.H. v. Matin case that focuses on patient treatment at Mildred Mitchell Bateman Hospital, in Huntington, and William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital, in Weston.

The DHHR filed the appeal in July, arguing, in part, that an order Bloom issued in June regarding employee salary increases should not be enforced. Bloom directed the DHHR to immediately implement a special starting salary for new health service workers, and to retroactively compensate those hired or promoted since January 2013. Bloom's order builds on a 2009 circuit court order compelling DHHR to increase salaries for employees in order to "be able to recruit staff and retain existing staff - an order DHHR ignored in part, interpreting it as a call to raise the salaries of existing employees while maintaining its existing hiring rate.

In its appeal, the DHHR argues that because Bloom's directive is final in regard to salary increases, it violates the collateral order doctrine, which makes orders subject to appeal if they are final in a case that is ongoing. There are three criteria for appeal under the doctrine: The order must "conclusively determine the disputed controversy, resolve an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and [be] effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. …

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