The House Health and Human Resources has introduced a bill to “seize operations” at four hospitals with UE Local 170 members. The committee on Thursday afternoon passed the bill 16-9 and reported it to the House floor, where it will be referred to the Finance Committee.

The long-term facilities that would close on January 1, 2022, are Hopemont, Lakin, Jackie Withrow and Manchin. The bill does not affect the two psychiatric hospitals, Bateman and Sharpe, and the Welch Community Hospital.

The latest report from MetroNews, published last night (Thursday), is here.

The bill’s full text is expected to be formally introduced today in the House of Delegates floor session, which begins at 11:00 a.m.

The buildings would close and patients would be transferred to private facilities. Employees would be offered transfers to other state jobs in which they are qualified, or receive a year’s severance package of pay and benefits.

Bill Crouch, secretary of the DHHR, cited excessive maintenance costs of the older buildings. “No current operator would operate these buildings. It would be cheaper to build new buildings,” he said.

He said the 198 patients at the four facilities could be transferred to the private sector with little problem. No figure was given on the number of employees affected.

Five of the six Democrats on the committee voted against the bill, as did four of the 19 Republicans.

Here’s the big thing: WE NEED LOBBYING HELP from our membership, even if it does not directly affect you! This will affect the membership in Chapters 4, 5 and 8, but closures and privatization could affect any and all state employees in the future — even in this session of the Legislature. You never know.

The House Finance Committee, which also has 25 members, is listed here. If the bill clears that hurdle, it would be sent to the full House. If it clears the house, the process will be duplicated in the Senate.

All bills that clear both houses are sent to Governor Jim Justice for his signature. It may not be too early to contact the governor’s office to lobby against the measure.