Publicized plans for drug treatment at Sugar Grove fall through

2019-08-26 | The Register-Herald

Aug. 25-- Aug. 25--More than a year ago, in March 2018, state officials gathered at the state Capitol with Cynthia Persily, CEO of Highland Hospital, to tout a much-needed project.

They announced plans for a former U.S. Navy base, at Sugar Grove in Pendleton County, to become a 95-bed addiction treatment facility. They'd not only offer treatment; they'd offer help with legal problems, finding housing, parenting classes and more, according to Persily.

Highland Hospital, they said at the time, was a subsidiary of Meridian Behavioral Health Systems. They said Sugar Grove MBH-GA, LLC, a partnership between Meridian Behavioral Health Systems and The Gersh Academy, would be leasing the Sugar Grove property.

Officials said they planned to bring about 200 jobs, ranging from health care providers to housekeepers, to the struggling county. They even wanted to turn the base, which is much like a town, into a sober-living community for people who'd completed their 28-day stays.

At the time, the state was sorely lacking in drug treatment. West Virginia had just over 100 inpatient treatment beds and, as it does now, the highest drug overdose death rate in the country.

They said the project should be complete by July 2018.

In an email in September 2018, Persily said the project wouldn't be completed until November 2018.

After several emails this year seeking updates on the project, though, Persily hadn't responded. On Friday, she replied.

"Highland is no longer involved in the Sugar Grove project," she wrote.

"I don't have any updates on this project and haven't for the last 6 months or so (and don't even know if Gersh is still involved)," she said. "I don't have any other information to share unfortunately."

She directed inquiries to The Gersh Academy, which did not respond to an email Friday.

Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman Allison Adler said in an email, "Based on information I learned, no one from DHHR has been approached by Meridian regarding such plans in the past several months. To our knowledge, this proposal is no longer being explored by Meridian, however you should check with Meridian to verify."

Meridian officials also did not respond to emails.

But Pendleton County Commission President Gene McConnell confirmed Friday that he'd seen no work ongoing at Sugar Grove that would indicate the proposal was coming to fruition.

In June 2018, Persily said the opening was being pushed back while company officials waited for DHHR to release what it would be willing to pay for the care of Medicaid patients, according to the Intermountain newspaper. People on Medicaid, a government insurance program, are low-income and make up almost a third of the state.

In an email at the time, Adler told The Register-Herald: "While some providers believe the rates should be adjusted at a higher rate, Medicaid is unable to adjust rates for one provider and not the others."

In an email last week, Adler added: "To our knowledge, the prospective plans for Sugar Grove never evolved to the point of discussion of rates."

County Commission President McConnell said he hadn't put much stock in the announcement at the time, noting there had been no "guarantee."

"I guess the long and short of it is, I heard the same thing you did but I didn't pay a whole lot of attention," he said.

McConnell said in his personal view, officials shouldn't hold press conferences until the project is definite. He remembered, at the time, officials predicting 200 jobs would come to the area.

"Once you say that, if you create 199, well, you failed or you haven't kept your promise," he said. "It raises expectations that never get met."

He added that some "people may go out and make decisions based on that and if it doesn't come to pass, it could mess up some lives."

Email: ebeck@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @3littleredbones