WSAZ Investigates: Concerned community members meet with leaders to discuss proposed DHHR group home

The WV DHHR contracted a private developer to build a group home along Norwood Road in Cabell County.
Published: Feb. 19, 2023 at 11:54 PM EST
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - It’s been less than a week since a WSAZ investigation revealed the Department of Health and Human Resources plans to build a forensic group home along Norwood Road in Huntington.

The WV DHHR contracted a private developer to build a group home along Norwood Road in Cabell County.

The agency confirmed the original intent for the home was to house forensic patients or those who are charged with crimes but have been deemed mentally ill.

The property sits in the middle of a residential area, near school bus stops, a daycare, and several schools.

On Sunday, around 100 people showed up at HIMG on Rt 60 in Huntington to speak with community leaders about their concerns.

WSAZ pointed out that the agency’s own building code states group homes are a risk potential facility and should not be located near public and private schools. However, a DHHR spokesperson responded by saying, “this is not a requirement in state code or rule.”

WSAZ broke the plans to neighbors who say they were stunned and concerned for their safety.

Less than 24 hours after our story aired the DHHR changed course sending a press release stating they are changing plans for the facility plans from forensic patients to instead use the facility to serve West Virginia’s youth with mental health needs. But neighbors, leaders, and lawmakers say they were blindsided and aren’t okay with these new plans either

Sunday they came together for a community meeting.

“I want to start out by making it clear that the proposed use of that property is totally unacceptable to me,” said Delegate Matt Rohrbach.

State Delegate Matt Rohrbach, who represents the area, fielded most of the questions and told community members about his discussions with leaders at the state level.

“I’ve got a lot to report because I’m kind of the person that’s been up there dealing with DHHR and dealing with the Governor on this. Let me start out by saying, first of all, I did not know about this until Sarah Sager got a hold of me a week ago Friday. It’s the first I heard about it. Obviously, as the folks in this room can tell you could see a little bit of activity as far as construction went, but I didn’t have any idea what it was,” said Rohrbach.

Heidi Moeller Pagur lives next door to the property. Her family has lived around it for more than 100 years and at one point even owned it. She said with the close proximity to her family, she had to come to speak up about her hopes for the property.

“In my opinion, I would rather it just be an office building and stick with that as long as there’s nobody dangerous there,” said Pagur.

“That is what I need to hear: A - Do we want to just kill it totally? or B: would we want a low-impact office space - a non-residential facility of any type,” said Rohrbach.

“I don’t want HUD housing there. I don’t want low income. I don’t want him to make another deal with somebody who is a private business that can put in whatever they want. In my opinion, I would rather stick with the state and put office buildings next door because that would be better off for everybody. Somebody is there from 8-5. There’s nobody sleeping there. No bedrooms. No people that have problems. I can deal with that,” said Pagur.

“A show of hands who would agree with that?” said a community member.

Nearly everyone in the room raised their hand.

“Okay. That tells me an awful lot about what I wanted to get accomplished at this meeting,” said Delegate Rohrbach.

Rohrbach assured the concerned community members this will be a priority for him this upcoming week in Charleston.

“It would be my sincere desire - as we’re getting really deep in session, having double sessions and all - to get this resolved this week if possible,” said Delegate Rohrbach.

For those unable to attend the meeting on Sunday at HIMG, there’s set to be another community meeting. It is set for Monday night at 7 o’clock at Cross Roads United Methodist Church.

WSAZ will be at the community meeting on Monday and will follow up with Delegate Rohrbach about his discussions this week at the state level regarding potential changes for the property.