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Northwood Files Intent To Sue

By Staff | Jan 13, 2010

Gov. Joe Manchin says he has no vendetta against Northwood Health Systems and is not trying to settle a political score against the company. But Northwood officials claim Manchin’s retaliatory actions are “obvious”.

Northwood on Jan 5 issued a 30-day notice of intent to file a lawsuit against Manchin and other state officials, alleging they violated civil rights and attempted to put the company out of business. And on Friday, the governor and Northwood Chairman of the Board Patrick Casey continued to duel over the matter.

“I have played no part in the licensing proceedings involving Northwood, and I have absolutely no vendetta against that company or any company or person,” Manchin said in an e-mail Friday. “My main concern is that our citizens are protected and served to the best of our ability.”

As part of its retaliation claims, Northwood officials said Manchin influenced the Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification (OHFLAC) – a division of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources – to find an unusually high number of violations at Northwoods’ facilities since the company began supporting West Virginia Senate Bill 672. The bill, which would have provided more money for behavioral health services, unanimously passed both the Senate and House of Delegates. Manchin, though, vetoed the bill.

OHFLAC found five total violations at the 27 Northwood facilities in all of 2007 and 2008, combined, but cited Northwood for 175 deficiencies from February to November 2009. The company has yet to receive a renewal license from OHFLAC, though operations continue under the old license.

Manchin said, however, he has not acted against Northwood – an organization with about 450 employees serving more than 3,000 mental health patients in Ohio, Marshall, and Wetzel counties – for supporting the bill he vetoed.

“This is an absolutely irresponsible action by Northwood and its attorneys. Northwood should focus on what is truly important: The health, safety, and welfare of its patients. Their allegations against me are completely false and this lawsuit is an obvious attempt to divert attention from the serious health and safety concerns identified at some of Northwood’s facilities. Northwood’s suggestion that I would abuse government services to settle a political score is irresponsible. They should do the right thing: Drop this lawsuit and focus on taking care of their patients,” Manchin said.

Casey, though, emphasized Northwood has not actually filed the lawsuit, rather only the required 30-day notice of intent to sue. He also said Northwood is trying to serve its patients by acquiring a new license.

“Northwood is focused on patient care and the reason for the notice is because of Northwood’s desire to serve our patients,” Casey said via e-mail.

“We believe the obvious political retaliation by the state needs to stop. We have never tried to hide from our responsibility to care for our patients. This notice is not an attempt to divert attention but meant to shine a light on the political retaliation taken against Northwood,” Casey added.

According to the suit Northwood intends to file in Wheeling’s U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, the company is not seeking money. The company, instead, wants the court to declare that Manchin violated the company’s rights to due process, equal protection, and free speech. Northwood also wants to see its licenses fully restored and to be held to the same standards as similar health care providers.

Back in October of 2009 it was reported three patients had died in the care of Northwood Health Systems in a matter of months while the company was working to renew its health care license, which expired Sept. 30, 2009.

Northwood officials believed those patients died from natural causes and said the company is committed to providing a safe and caring environment for those in its care. The company serves more than 3,000 mental health patients in Ohio, Marshall, and Wetzel counties.