Health Right Shows How to Do Needle Exchange
Unlike KCHD, non-profit health provider runs a smooth program
While the downtown Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s needle-exchange program shows signs of a mismanaged government program run amok, a nonprofit, privately run East End health care provider has become a shining example of how services can be provided to the indigent and drug-addicted community without creating a public nuisance.
West Virginia Health Right, a free and charitable health care clinic located at 1520 Washington St. East, has quietly and effectively offered “harm reduction services – as needle-exchange programs are called – since 2011. That’s four years longer than the KCHD’s program.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, Police Chief Steve Cooper, and the firefighters union have been highly critical of the Health Department program. They say it brings criminals from out of the area into downtown, making the crime, drug and criminal vagrancy problems worse.
Because of the additional crime, danger to emergency responders and needle litter across the city, Mayor Jones asked City Council to recriminalize possession of needles and end the health department’s program. But after heated debate, Council voted instead to delay action until May 21.
Later, Cooper presented seven rules to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to follow in implementing its needle-exchange program, as the legislation creating the program allowed him to do. But the health department claimed the rules were too burdensome and suspended its program.
The rules promulgated by the police chief are reportedly based on procedures already in place at Health Right.
According to Health Right CEO Angie Settle, Health Right expels patients who don’t return 100 percent of their needles.