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Agency disliked health dept. site

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

A day before the body that oversees the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department chose a new home for the agency, a state engineer recommended against moving to that location.

But a county official informed the Board of Health that the accessibility problems at the Professional Building could be sufficiently remedied.

State and county officials had different interpretations of the federal law, said Barbara Judy, state disabilities act coordinator.

"I recommended that they look for another location," she said Thursday.

Judy echoed the sentiments of a state engineer who toured the location just before the board decided to move the department there.

Board members made the decision to move to the second floor of the Professional Building on South Third Street on March 18.

In a letter dated March 17, Division of Rehabilitation Services engineer Dale Castilla told the board the location "has a serious accessibility problem."

"It is my recommendation that the Health Department consider other locations that are accessible or where accessibility can be more readily achieved," Castilla said in the letter.

But a day after the letter was received, board members unanimously approved moving to the Professional Building.

The differing opinions added confusion to the department's move from the Harrison County Courthouse, board President Mary Ann Iquinto said.

"There were so many different opinions," she said. "Everybody had an interpretation of the law. We had local and state people tour (the building). It was a situation where you're not sure who to believe."

The board decided to side with county disabilities act coordinator Terry Schulte, Iquinto said. Schulte is employed by the county commission, which provides funding to the health department.

"If we make reasonable accommodations, we can't be faulted," Iquinto said.

Iquinto, other board members and the board's attorneys had a conference call with Judy concerning the building in March before the decision was made, Iquinto said.

During that meeting, the differences in interpretation between Judy and the attorneys became evident, she said.

"(The attorneys) would ask her where she found certain requirements in the law," Iquinto said. "She couldn't point to where those (requirements) were listed."

So the board ultimately decided to take Schulte's interpretation, Iquinto said.

County commissions are responsible for appointing disabilities act coordinators, Judy said. They can chose whomever they want to fill the positions, Judy said.

Schulte also serves as the county's Planning Commission director, which is in part responsible for approving architectural plans in the county.

Most problems listed in Castilla's report, with which Judy agrees, center on the building's elevator. Both the county and state report states the elevator is too small for disability act requirements.

The board has a plan to bring service to patients who cannot reach the second floor. That plan calls for construction of a first-floor room where services can be brought to those patients.

That room, however, is not yet complete, according to department officials. Construction on the room is scheduled to begin in early June.

Margaret Howe, health department director of nursing, said she could not provide an estimate for the cost of the room. Invoices show the health department has spent more than $55,000 in renovations so far at the Professional Building.

The project to build the first-floor room was delayed, Howe said, because of other work that needed to be done in order for the department to get up and running in the new location, such as installation of telephone service and electrical work.

Although the board was not legally obligated to follow Castilla's recommendation, not doing so is an uncommon move, Castilla said.

"Usually, people move to get a more accessible place," he said. "It's unusual for an outfit to move to a less accessible place.".

Other problems listed in Castilla's letter also are correctable, he said. The restrooms, for example, "could be made handicapped accessible."

Castilla's office was asked to do that report, he said.

State disabilities act officials have conducted no follow-up investigations on the new location, Judy said.

"We have no enforcement power," she said.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404.

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