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New leadership at training center

March 27, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The hundreds of patients and clients that were served by the financially troubled Eastern Panhandle Training Center in Martinsburg are experiencing no interruption in service and care now that another local organization has taken over the facility, officials with both agencies said.

The Eastern Panhandle Training Center, which serves more than 360 mentally disabled people in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy more than a week ago.

EastRidge Health Systems, a nonprofit organization that helps people with substance abuse and mental health issues, has stepped in to be the temporary project manager of the Eastern Panhandle Training Center.

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"The board of directors at EastRidge and I thought it was important that the clients stay in their homes. We wanted to do everything we could," said Jim Moore, interim executive director of EastRidge.

He said EastRidge, the training center and the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources are investigating ways to make the temporary arrangement permanent.

If EastRidge had not stepped forward as temporary manager, the clients served at the center would have been scattered throughout the state and placed in other agencies, said Elizabeth Hodgen, executive director for the center.

There has been no reduction or change in staff at the center, so the clients are receiving the same level of care, Hodgen said.

Moore said if there had been staffing problems at the center EastRidge might not have been able to take over management, because it does not have enough in-house staff experienced in taking care of the mentally disabled.

The training center employs about 300 people and operates work centers, 16 group homes and a day rehabilitation center.

Revenues from the center are being directed to EastRidge.

Moore said there has been no drain on EastRidge at this point, but said he is unsure of the long-term impact.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources is providing financial relief to EastRidge during the transition, he said.

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy was filed at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Northern District of West Virginia in Wheeling, W.Va., on March 14 by the former managing agency of the center, Sunrise Community Services Inc., a Miami-based nonprofit organization.

Sunrise took over management of the center in May 2001 and had invested $1.5 million in the center, Hodgen said.

She said when Sunrise took over management of the center there were licensing issues and problems with the funding waivers issued by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Funding waivers cover the cost of care to people who are eligible and the state compensates the center.

Hodgen said when Sunrise discovered that a number of the clients did not have waiver funding status it began to submit applications to the state, but after a few months, a lot of the applications were being denied, she said.

It was discovered that eight of the clients in residential care, which provides a group home setting with around-the-clock care, were not eligible for the funding so the center was essentially providing the care for free, she said.

"This was a huge part of the financial issue," Hodgen said.

Now, one of the eight has been relocated to another agency and the other seven will be relocated within two weeks, she said.

There are also clients whose care costs exceeds the waiver funding, creating a "continual drain on the organization," Hodgen said.

With the filing of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the Eastern Panhandle Training Center ceased to exist, and the management of Sunrise dissolved along with the board of directors for the center, Hodgen said.

The center eventually will change its name, and if the two organizations merge, they will operate under one name, Hodgen said.

"It is important people understand we are working together. This is an anxiety-filled situation and we are trying to make it as smooth a transition as possible. We all want this to work and EastRidge is committed to making this work, and what's best for the clients will happen," Moore said.

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