07 January 2010

Threatened Lawsuit Alleges Retaliation by Manchin, Administration

The Northern Panhandle's mental health care provider has given the required 30-day notice to the Manchin administration that it plans to sue, alleging federal civil rights violations, The Associated Press and others report.

Northwood Health Systems contends that Gov. Joe Manchin has led a regulatory crackdown meant to punish it for "speaking out on health care issues last year," the AP article said. That includes last year's push for increased state funding for behavioral health services.

Longtime Wheeling lawyer and Northwood board Chairman Patrick Casey told AP "the state found five problems with Northwood in 2007 and 2008 combined, compared to 175 'deficiencies' found in 2009.'"

AP's Tom Breen writes that "Northwood has been operating since October without a license, which it was denied by the Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification... When the state decided not to renew Northwood’s license, it cited three patient deaths within a two-month span in 2009 and a series of incidents in which staff members mistreated, neglected or humiliated disabled patients."

Manchin spokesman Matt Turner told AP that "any allegation that DHHR’s regulation of Northwood would be based on the governor’s veto is baseless and without merit."

Turner offered a similar statement to The Intelligencer of Wheeling, which also reports that "Northwood is not seeking money in the suit but wants the court to find that Manchin and state officials violated Northwood's civil rights, including the rights to free speech, equal protection and due process."

The Wheeling newspaper also reported earlier on Northwood issuing the 30-day notice on Tuesday. Public Broadcasting has coverage as well (and audio), as does MetroNews (audio here).

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