Former W.Va. DHHR attorney blasts agency

W.Va. DHHR criticized for psychiatric care
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 6:49 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Mike Folio believes the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is broken, telling lawmakers the agency is wasting millions in taxpayer dollars and unnecessarily committing the disabled and elderly to psychiatric hospitals.

“There is no plan, and that’s where we’re at,” Mike Folio told lawmakers Tuesday. “This is why this vicious cycle of institutionalization continues to occur.”

Folio is a former DHHR attorney turned government watchdog, now working as legal director for Disability Rights of West Virginia. He briefed lawmakers Tuesday during a joint committee focused on health.

The testimony coming just weeks after the federal government opened a civil rights investigation into claims against DHHR, claims brought by Folio and Disability Rights of West Virginia. A DHHR spokesperson said her agency is cooperating with investigators and that it does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.

“The DHHR does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and works diligently to prevent discrimination from occurring in any service, program, or activity which is administered by the agency,” said spokesperson Allison Adler.

Folio’s criticism focused on DHHR’s placement of intellectually disabled and geriatric patients at psychiatric hospitals. That occurring at a time, when he says, the state’s main psychiatric hospital is filled beyond capacity.

“What that means is, they’re being warehoused in institutions and not integrated into the community where they belong,” he told WSAZ NewsChannel 3.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch, in comments to WSAZ, claimed Folio misled lawmakers.

“Mr. Folio left out the part that we try constantly to get individuals moved to a less restrictive level of care,” he said.

But achieving that goal is difficult.

The Secretary told WSAZ and lawmakers the state lacks the number of group homes it needs and lacks workers to staff the ones that do exists.

“We certainly want these people in the right level of care,” Crouch told lawmakers. “That’s what we’re trying to do. There’s no intent to keep people in a psychiatric hospital. Why would anyone want to do that?”

Folio also accused DHHR of blocking requests for information and instructing employees to remain silent.

Crouch disputed those claims as well and said he’s open to an investigation not only of DHHR, but also of Folio and his group.