During a regular meeting last Thursday, the Mingo County Board of Health gave approval for the final step in an application process that could result in the Mingo County Health Department joining eight other West Virginia counties in becoming a Harm Reduction Center.

The Board of Directors first gave its authorization to initiate the application process in early October.

In the interim, the MCHD was required to get and ultimately obtain approval from the Mingo County Commission and the county’s five municipalities, as well as receiving a written endorsement from the Mingo County Sheriff’s Department.

Having obtained these approvals, MCHD Administrator Keith Blankenship said the last step in the application process was to get the MCBOH’s final endorsement which would allow all the documentation to be submitted.

Blankenship said if the application is approved, the certification, or license, will be granted by OHFLAC (Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification), which certifies/licenses healthcare providers such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers, etc., for Harm Reduction status.

The criteria for Harm Reduction Center eligibility, he said, originated from guidelines that were recently established by the WV Legislature through SB 334.

He explained the final step for consideration also included an application fee of $250; a multi-page policy and procedure document which, he pointed out, demonstrates how the MCHD center is operated and will operate going forward with the new services; and a completed board of health form acknowledging the Board of Directors had been made aware of the policy booklet and had been given an opportunity to review and ask questions concerning its content.

“It feels like we’ve got fairly good support for the starting point,” he said. “And even though it is a starting point, I’m really excited about it.”

Blankenship said the MCHD already provides around 80 percent of the services required for a health department to become a certified Harm Reduction Center.

One service that is mandatory, one he pointed out the MCHD doesn’t currently have, is the provision for what could have been a potentially provocative syringe exchange service program.

Board member Albert Totten asked if any of the townships had expressed concern over the syringe exchange part of the program.

“I was pleasantly surprised that there was not a lot of concern over the syringe program, but remember the application is very conservative,” Blankenship said. “We’ve only asked for it to be here in the building, it will never be on the van, never in the communities until some community members say they’d like to have that in their community.”

Blankenship further explained the syringe exchange is a small part of the overall program; so much so that he remains unsure how many people would actually come to the MCHD for this specific service.

He emphasized it would be a one-to-one exchange program by which an individual could get a set number—tentatively 20 to 30—of new syringes only if he/she turns in the same number of old ones.

But because the program can also include the replacement of syringes for diabetics, for example, Blankenship believes it represents a practicable and needed service for the community.

“You bring back the old syringes to get the new ones…that’s part of the policy because we can actually lose our license if we do not enforce it,” he said. “But the hope also is they’re out here in the neighborhoods searching for dirty syringes to bring in, so we actually get some litter control.”

Blankenship further emphasized that the syringes have to be unique to the MCHD, meaning the old syringes must be the same as were first given out by the health department, in order to be exchanged.

Other criteria required by OHFLAC for certification, many of which Blankenship said the MCDH already offers, include the administration of vaccines, tests for STDs, HIV, and AIDS, and having a family planning program that offers birth control services and women’s exams.

Any service that could not be offered by the MCHD, such as psychiatric care, counseling, and an educational component, MOUs had to be previously signed with other agencies that could provide these services, he said.

Blankenship said these MOUs had been signed, specifically citing the Williamson Health and Wellness Center as one of the MCHD’s cooperating partners.

Should the MCHD receive its certification, Blankenship said the health department would be eligible for additional grant funding for both this and its already in-place QRT Program.

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