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Aetna ready for new management role regarding foster care

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Working with the West Virginia government is nothing new to Aetna Better Health of West Virginia; the company has managed the benefits of people in the state Medicaid program since 1996.

Now, Aetna Better Health of West Virginia has a larger task: manage the states’ foster care system and options for thousands of children.

“A lot of those activities we are well versed in; care coordination, case management, all those really vital aspects we have a lot of really strong people that live here and really know the culture, know the situation in the state and their state partners as well,” said Todd White, the CEO of the health care group. “We’re anxious to get started and start rolling out some of our programs that kids in the foster care program now don’t have access to.”

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced last week a contract worth an estimated $200 million for managing the overloaded system. More than 7,000 children are currently in the system, and the state is facing a class-action lawsuit and allegations of failing the state’s youngest citizens.

Josh Boynton, the vice president of Aetna Better Living, said the state has been busy changing the current system as well as pushing initiatives in the name of improvement.

“We really can’t think of a better first partner than West Virginia to roll out this revolutionary new approach,” he said. “This is a collaborative one, a proactive one. It’s a holistic approach, and it’s not only focused on the child’s well-being but the family’s well-being.”

Boynton said it’s important for the organization to help children as “the foundation of lifelong health are built in childhood.”

“As a health care leader in this state for many, many years, we are excited to stand shoulder to shoulder with the state, with their families, with providers, with advocates, all of the stakeholders and the kids that we’re supporting,” he said. “This is a collaborative approach. It’s one where we firmly believe the solutions are in West Virginia and the families, the kids, the communities and the providers. Our approach is about bringing people together.”

Having Aetna Better Health of West Virginia as a managed care organization will allow for tailored services to meet the needs of the state and the foster care system, as well as coordination of care between members and transitioning children to community-based treatment in the state.

The move will result in around 20,000 new members to Aetna for services.

Aetna Better Health of West Virginia will hire around 100 new employees focused on this new task.

Some employees will be based in Charleston, but White noted employees will be based around the state.

“If someone is living in Jefferson County or Wheeling or down in McDowell (County), we’re anxious. We’re anxious for folks that are willing to get their hands dirty and get in and help us with this new project,” he said.

“It’s a local approach,” Boynton added. “That’s what we are most proud of, and I think that is what people will see.”

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Survey says Charleston small businesses struggle with a quality workforce

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A quality workforce in terms of soft skills is the biggest issue facing small businesses in Charleston, according to a survey by the Charleston Area Alliance.

Fifty Charleston businesses were surveyed in a project called “Charleston Business Snapshot” as part of a grant from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and BB&T.  Officials from the alliance went door-to-door for the in-person surveys that took weeks to complete.

Sixteen percent of business owners responded to their biggest challenge as quality workforce while 12% said the loss of population, 12% safety/vagrancy, 9% internet, 7% parking, and 5% tax law changes.

Susie Salisbury, the VP of Community Development for the Charleston Area Alliance said small businesses are the heart of Charleston and they must always look for ways to improve them.

“We don’t have that many manufacturers within our city limits so our B&O tax base is more based on these smaller businesses,” she said.

“We need to have our finger on the pulse of what their concerns are, how could we assist them more, what are the great things that we could enhance?”

Included in the survey were questions comparing 2017 to 2018. For employment, nearly 63% of businesses said it stayed the same, while both increase and decrease received 18.8% of the answer.

Just more than half of the small businesses saw an increase in revenue over the past year at 51% while 30% saw a decrease and 19% stayed the same.

Forty-five percent of surveyed businesses anticipate growth in 2020.

Salisbury said the survey also got opinionated.

“We asked them a question, in your opinion, does your Charleston location enhance, hurt, or have no impact on your business. The good news is most people said it enhanced it,” she said.

The survey showed that 54.5% of respondents said it enhanced business while 27.3% said it hurt and 18.2% said their Charleston location has no impact on business.

Of note, 30% of businesses surveyed have offices outside of Charleston and 40% of business owners surveyed live outside of city limits.

Salisbury said the alliance hopes to continue this kind of survey every few years.

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Kansas State has West Virginia’s full attention following Texas Tech dud

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Needless to say, West Virginia is not currently a good enough football team to win a game without dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s. That was the case against Texas Tech on Saturday, and it ended up costing the Mountaineers dearly in a blowout loss.

“Our margin for error is really small,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “When you aren’t emotionally or mentally locked in for every single play, if you don’t do exactly what you are coached to do and make the routine plays that are right there, you get exposed. And that’s what happened on Saturday.”

Senior defensive lineman Reese Donahue said his unit came into the game too convinced that it had turned a corner after playing its best game of the year against Baylor the previous week.

“I don’t think we handled success well,” Donahue said. “I think we’ve been handling adversity well. We have not had a good shot at handling success yet. That was our opportunity to handle success, and we didn’t do it. It was too new.”

West Virginia’s defensive front was dominant against Baylor, finishing the game with eight sacks and a memorable goal-line stand. Against Texas Tech, the Mountaineers (3-6, 1-5 Big 12) allowed touchdowns on the first five drives. On two of them, the Red Raiders converted short fourth downs.

“That’s on me as a leader. That’s on Darius and Dante [Stills] now that they’ve stepped into leadership roles,” Donahue said. “That’s on the entire defensive line.”

Neal Brown’s pregame press conference

It will take an extreme case of attentiveness this Saturday if the Mountaineers are going to upset Kansas State and maintain any hope of reaching a bowl game. The Wildcats (6-3, 3-3) start five redshirt senior offensive linemen and grind mistake-prone opponents into dust.

“They are the most complicated offense we’ve seen this year, without exception,” said WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. “The formations, personnel groupings, plays. Their blocking schemes. Most teams have 2-3 protections. There’s is exponential. It’s really impressive what they’ve been doing.”

Kansas State’s offense is a carryover from new coach Chris Klieman’s scheme at North Dakota State, where he was 69-6 as a head coach.

“When you looked at the teams that defended [North Dakota State], they had the ability to do some things that I don’t think we can do,” Koenning said.

That reality is acceptable to Donahue, because he knows it will produce better play from West Virginia.

“It’s hard when you play great to still be hungry,” Donahue said. “When you lose and get your butt kicked, if that doesn’t fuel your fire, then this game isn’t for you.”

Quarterback question

Brown reiterated his postgame point that quarterback is far from the only issue afflicting West Virginia’s offense. Relative to other positions on that side of the ball, he views Austin Kendall’s play as a strength.

“We’ve got issues on offense,” Brown said. “Our quarterback play hasn’t been tremendous, but it hasn’t been the reason we’ve struggled.”

Kendall is sixth in the Big 12 with 1,969 passing yards, but eighth with 12 touchdowns and ninth with a 122.9 efficiency rating.

That said, Brown indicated a strong probability of backup Jarret Doege potentially seeing some action before the game is well out of reach.

“We do have a plan that you will see on Saturday after kickoff,” Brown said.

Injury updates

Linebacker Josh Chandler will be back in the lineup this week. He has been out since leaving the Oklahoma game with a knee strain. Chandler attempted to come back last week, but Brown held him out because he felt “less than 100 percent.”

Offensive line coach Matt Moore indicated right guard Chase Behrndt is likely to play this week as well. Behrndt warmed up last week, but did not feel comfortable enough to play. James Gmiter slid over to right guard in his place, while Mike Brown started at left guard.

“I think Chase is going to be better this week, so we’ll have a little bit of a different lineup,” Moore said.

Receiver Sean Ryan is returning to practice this week as well. His playing status won’t be known until the end of the week. He’s been out since leaving with an injury late in the Texas game.

Fellow receiver T.J. Simmons is out of his walking boot, but remains questionable against Kansas State.

Brown said a decision will be made regarding kicker Evan Staley later this week. Staley has missed the past two games.

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Justice mining companies want UMW lawsuit over retiree benefits to be dismissed

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Coal companies owned by Gov. Jim Justice and his family are asking that a federal lawsuit filed by retired miners and their union be dismissed.

Lawyers for the Justice mine companies filed a motion to dismiss last week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Four retired coal miners and the United Mine Workers union filed the lawsuit in August, charging that claiming coal companies owned by the Justice family failed to consistently pay health and pharmaceutical costs promised under a nationwide agreement.

Named in the lawsuit were Justice Energy Co., Keystone Service Industries, Bluestone Coal and Southern Coal Corp.

Lawyers for the companies filed a response on Nov. 5, contending the plaintiffs didn’t exhaust remedies that were available through arbitration.

“Rather,” wrote lawyers for the Justice companies, “Plaintiffs attempt an end-run around these well-known mandatory requirements.”

The Justice companies also contend the lawsuit doesn’t provide enough specifics about what health care expenses were not paid for the four miners.

“The Complaint provides almost no detail as to which expenses were allegedly not paid and merely identifies them in summary categories,” the lawyers wrote.

Asked for response to the motion to dismiss, United Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith said only, “We will be responding to their filings in court.”

The UMW claims the Justice companies violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, affecting dozens of retired miners.

The Justice companies were a part of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 2016, which included medical and prescription benefits for retirees, their spouses and dependents. The companies’ agreements were effective through Dec. 31, 2021.

The UMW says the companies have failed to pay undisputed claims since at least late 2017, the year Justice became governor, until now.

Furthermore, the lawsuit claims the companies unilaterally canceled retiree medical and prescription drug coverage this past July 1, with partial coverage restored July 2.

One attempt to resolve the situation occurred this past June 27, the UMW states, when the union mailed two identical, certified letters to the vice president for human resources for two of the Justice companies.

“Defendants did not respond to those letters and did not resolve the unpaid bills,” the UMW’s lawsuit states.

The Justice companies counter that such letters would not meet fundamental requirements for a grievance under the national bituminous wage agreement or a claim under the companies’ health care plans.

“In other words,” the Justice lawyers wrote, “regardless of whether Defendants responded to the UMWA letter, the Plaintiffs skipped all the steps necessary to avoid an exhaustion defense. This is fatal to Plaintiffs’ claim.”

The UMW and the retired miners are asking first for an injunction to have the Justice companies resume paying for healthcare and pharmaceutical costs while the broader issues are resolved.

The lawsuit also asks for compensatory damages plus reimbursement for the medical and prescription drug bills already due.

The four retired miners who are specifically named in the UMW’s federal lawsuit say their healthcare needs have been delayed.

James Graham II, a retired miner from Monroe County who was covered under Justice Energy, underwent back surgery in June 2018.

“Defendants did not pay for that surgery. Further, because the bill for the surgery was unpaid, Mr. Graham was forced to delay necessary, post-surgery follow-up treatment.”

Dennis Adkins, a retired miner now living in North Carolina, was insured under Keystone Service Industries. He has had to pay out of pocket for medical treatment for chronic conditions.

Roger Wriston, a retired miner in Fayette County, was covered under Bluestone Coal but has been receiving “distressing and embarrassing calls for bills that should have been covered by his retiree benefits plan.”

His wife needs medical treatment for her back, “but has not received necessary injections because they have no confidence that the bills will be paid by the insurance company.”

David Polk, a retired miner in Wyoming County, was insured under Double-Bonus Coal. He needs medicine for an abnormal heartbeat and high cholesterol.

“Also, he has been forced to cancel doctor’s appointments because he does not have coverage for the appointment. Moreover, he cannot afford his prescription drugs.”

The UMW says those miners are examples of what other retirees are facing.

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New date set for Hardin trial

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Cabell County Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson is expected to make a decision soon on whether he’ll set bail for former Marshall University student Joseph Chase Hardin.


Joseph Chase Hardin

Hardin, 22, is charged with two counts of second degree sexual assault in connection with alleged separate off-campus incidents with two Marshall female students last fall. The new charges resulted in Ferguson revoking Hardin’s probation in June from a previous conviction involving an on-campus incident with a Marshall female in 2016.

Hardin’s attorney Kerry Nessel asked Ferguson for a new trial date Tuesday along with a request the judge set bail for his client for his possible release after his jail term for the 2016 ends Dec. 5.

Ferguson reset the trial for Feb. 25, 2020 and said he’d take a few days to decide on bail on the 2018 charges.

Marshall kicked Hardin out of school on June 11, four days days after he was booked into the Western Regional Jail. Hardin was originally expelled from Marshall in March 2016 about a month after the first sexual assault. He appealed and a student conduct panel ruled in his favor. After he was sentenced to probation in the 2016 crime he was allowed back on campus with restrictions. Those restrictions were lifted for the Fall 2018 term.

The student who was the victim in the 2016 case filed a lawsuit against Marshall for its handling of the case. A federal judge found in favor of the university in a July 23 summary judgment.

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Former coal industry giant Bobby Brown dead at 87

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The man who guided Consolidation Coal Company through periods of great profit and great transition has died.


Bobby Brown

Bobby Ray Brown, who was best known to those in the industry as “B.R.” Brown, died last week at his home in Tyler, Texas. He was 87.

Brown was a native of Hamburg, Arkansas, and started his career with Conoco Oil Company.

During his tenure with Conoco he established himself as a skilled labor negotiator and arranged numerous contracts with members of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union. At the time, Consolidation Coal Company was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Conoco. Brown was sent to Pittsburgh to help with Labor Relations.

“He was a great businessman and he made sure those of us who worked for him kept our eye on the bottom line and controlled costs and increased productivity,” said longtime Consol employee Tom Hoffman. “He was also a skilled negotiator.”

Brown came to Pittsburgh to help run Consolidation Coal in 1978. At its peak, Consol had more than 50 coal mines in six states and nearly 22,000 employees. It was the nation’s largest coal producer. It was also the company with the largest employee base represented by the United Mine Workers of America.

Brown helped to forge what became known as the Bituminous Coal Operators Association and negotiated national coal contracts. He was the chief negotiator for the BCOA which at one time represented more than 100 coal companies.

The most high-profile contract came in 1993 when Consol was among the companies singled out by the UMWA for a selective strike.

“It was the last of the national contracts that he negotiated. He had done the previous three and he was a very skilled negotiator when he came to Consol, but you’re right the 1993 strike was the one that made him a household name for the better part of a year,” Hoffman said.

In 1981, CONSOL became a subsidiary of E.I. duPont de Nemours when that company acquired Conoco. That same year, in addition to his titles at CONSOL, he became a senior vice president at DuPont. He spent five years as president and CEO of Remington Arms, which was owned by DuPont at the time.

In 1992, Brown helped complete a financial transaction in which DuPont sold a half interest in CONSOL to the German mining company, Rheinbraun. Toward the end of the decade, DuPont sold its remaining interest to Rheinbraun and exited the coal business.

Beginning in 1999, Rheinbraun began selling portions of its ownership in CONSOL Energy to the public, eventually selling its entire financial position.

“His role in the evolution of the company was to help DuPont in the early 90’s wanted to exit the coal business, and he was responsible for bringing in Rheinbraun to facilitate that exit,” Hoffman said.

True to his roots, Brown would classify himself as a “country boy” with a love for hunting, fishing, and playing golf with clients and friends. However, he had a tremendous sense for business and according to Hoffman was a keen judge of character.

“He never forgot his roots. He had lots of country sayings to make a point, but when you were with him one-on-one you felt like you were his closest adviser. He had a way of making everybody feel important when he was talking,” Hoffman said.

“I once asked him what his biggest mistake was and he said, ‘Promoting people before they were ready for the job,'” Hoffman explained. “What he meant was if you promoted someone and they failed, you really couldn’t put them back where they had come from and start over, you actually had to move them out of the company. He really hated to do that.”

Brown retired from Consol in 1998.

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Field set for state cheerleading championship

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Following the completion of regional competition, the field is set for the WVSSAC state cheerleading tournament. Marshall University will host the competition on December 14th.

(The above photo gallery is from the Region 4 meets, courtesy of John Hagley Photography)

Class AAA teams: Jefferson, Hurricane, Wheeling Park, Parkersburg, Brooke, Musselman, George Washington, Woodrow Wilson

Class AA teams: Bridgeport, Winfield, East Fairmont, Logan, Fairmont Senior, Lincoln, Oak Hill, Man

Class A teams: South Harrison, Tug Valley, Tolsia, Madonna, Wheeling Central Catholic, Moorefield, Webster County, Midland Trail

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Charles Town house explosion ruled accidental by investigators

WV Fire Marshal

The Monday blast leveled this house in Charles Town.

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Investigators with the state Fire Marshal’s Office have ruled a Monday explosion that leveled a house in Charles Town as accidental in nature.

Two people were injured and a home has been deemed a total loss after an explosion.

It happened in the 500 block of Cloverdale Road Monday afternoon. HVAC technicians were in the home after the owners reported problems with their propane furnace. Shortly before 1 pm, an explosion set fire to the home.

Fire marshal investigators cleared the scene early Tuesday afternoon after declaring the blast was not intentional.

UPDATE: The cause of the Charles Town house explosion is ruled accidental and the investigators have cleared the scene, releasing the site back to the owners. 2 people were injured in the explosion. NFI

— WVState Fire Marshal (@WVFireMarshal) November 12, 2019

The Citizens Fire Department has confirmed two HVAC workers were injured in the blast. One victim was flown to a Washington, DC hospital for treatment. The other victim was taken to Jefferson Medical Center in Ranson.

“It looked like a normal house fire,” Citizens Fire Company Lt. Daniel Turner told ABC News. He was one of the first firefighters on the scene. “Then it got much, much worse as more explosions happened.”

HOME EXPLOSION: Aerial footage over Charles Town, West Virginia shows firefighters on the scene after a gas explosion destroyed a home; two HVAC techs working in the basement were injured. More tonight.

— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) November 11, 2019

In addition to several departments in Jefferson County, firefighters responded from Maryland and Virginia.

“We attempted to make entry into the house through the door that had fire coming out of it,” Turner said. “We tried to knock the fire back and then advance inside. We attempted to go inside and put the fire out but unfortunately we were forced out by conditions.”


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McCuskey announces bid for second and “final” term

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — State Auditor J.B. McCuskey said Tuesday that if he’s reelected in 2020 it will be his second and final term as auditor.

J.B. McCuskey

“I believe that two terms is an appropriate amount of time for anybody to serve in our constitutional offices,” McCuskey said during a Tuesday appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.” “I think George Washington had the right idea when he founded our country.”

There were no term limits for president when Washington served but he chose not to serve a third term.

McCuskey, a Republican, touts successes in government transparency during his nearly three years in office.

“When we started we had a goal of making West Virginia’s government more efficient, more effective and more transparent and in four years I think we can really cement the changes that we’ve made,” he said.

.@mccuskeyforwv, WV State Auditor, talks with @HoppyKercheval about his announcement for re-election. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) November 12, 2019

The website,, established by McCuskey has gained national attention. It received an A-plus in a 2018 report from the United States Public Interest Research Group. The report said West Virginia’s online spending data “has undergone a meteoric rise.”

McCuskey has also been able to convince several county commissions to agree to put the financial data from their counties on the site. Additionally, earlier this year McCuskey unveiled a new tool on his website to give taxpayers an itemized statement of where there taxes end up.

McCuskey has also been active in conducting several criminal investigations when it comes to government spending. The most talked about involves several former and current Richwood officials.

McCuskey has future political aspirations. He readily admitted on “Talkline” Tuesday he would like to be governor at some point.

“It’s the thing that I’ve wanted probably more (than anything) in my whole life,” McCuskey said. “I see and I’ve seen since I as a little kid, West Virginia as sort of this amazing blank canvas that hasn’t really been built into what it could be.”

McCuskey said the state is currently at a “critical mass” when it comes to attracting young families to live here. He said that needs to be the focus now. He chose Bridgeport as the location to make his reelection bid official Tuesday for a reason.

“There is a group of young entrepreneurs and young business people there that are truly leading the way in West Virginia and it’s something we need to replicate in the rest of the state,” McCuskey said.

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Holliday: We embrace honoring victims of 1970 plane crash

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — As Marshall prepares for perhaps its most important game of the season Friday against Louisiana Tech, Thundering Herd head coach Doc Holliday has much more on his mind than facing the lone remaining unbeaten team in Conference USA play.

Thursday marks the 49th anniversary of the Nov. 14, 1970, plane crash that claimed the lives of 75 people, including the Marshall football team, coaches and staff, community members and flight crew.

As is tradition, a memorial service will be held Thursday at Marshall’s Memorial Fountain on the Student Center plaza, at which time the water in the fountain is shut off. The water remains off until spring.

“We have the fountain ceremony on Thursday and we have a lot of great speakers that come here. We put the 75 on our helmets and put black jerseys on for the one time a year,” Holliday said Tuesday as a guest on MetroNews Talkline. “We invite all the ex players to come out and take the field with us at the beginning of the game. It’s a special game, a special story and our kids embrace it.”

Although the tragic plane crash following a game at East Carolina occurred nearly five decades ago, Holliday makes sure those in the program are fully aware of the importance of the events leading up to the game.

“The first thing we do when they get on campus that first week of June is run out to the cemetery. Keith Morehouse, who lost family in the crash, tells them the story to make sure the players understand how important this football team is to the fan base, school, community and state,” Holliday said. “We do a lot of things throughout the year to make sure they understand how important this football program is to the community.”

Friday’s contest kicks off at 7 p.m., and will be aired on CBS Sports Network.

It will also mark the end of a win streak for one team.

Since falling to Texas in its season opener, Louisiana Tech (8-1, 5-0) has won eight straight games. Should the Bulldogs win this week, they could crack the Top 25 in both polls as well as take a big step toward securing homefield for the Conference USA championship game Dec. 7.

“They have good players,” Holliday said of the Bulldogs, who are coached by Skip Holtz. “It’s a personnel-driven game. They have 13 seniors starting and a quarterback (J’Mar Smith) who has played a lot of football. There are a lot of good players in Louisiana. I’ve played Louisiana Tech a number of years and they’ve always had talented players.”

Marshall (6-3, 4-1) is on a four-game win streak, which includes wins over Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky. FAU (7-3, 5-1) currently has a half-game lead on the Herd in C-USA’s East Division, but Marshall controls its destiny thanks to the head-to-head result.

The Herd have relied on a dominant rushing attack keyed by tailback Brenden Knox and strong defensive play.

Marshall has allowed 30 total points in its last two games and 78 during its current win streak.

“Anytime we’ve taken care of the football, we’ve won the game,” Holliday said. “It starts with playing great defense and when we get it in the red zone, we have to score points. Then, somehow we have to find a way to dominate special teams.” 

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