Amid swirling concerns, DHHR’s performance will be a top priority for legislation

Just before their next regular session, West Virginia lawmakers have made it clear that they intend to take a close look at the Departments of Health and Human Resources.

Several preliminary committee meetings over the past week have focused on DHHR. Both House Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Senate President Craig Blair have said the agency’s performance will be a legislative priority.

amy summer

And delegate Amy Summers, who was the House Majority Leader, said her primary focus will be improving DHHR’s outcomes.

“There are always several outages. You see it’s endangering our state,” Summers, R-Taylor, said on Talk of the Town on WAJR Radio.

“We are conducting civil lawsuits. We have a federal investigation. We have grants that are not managed properly. We have people getting hurt under the current system and so a change needs to be made.”

Listen to Talk of the Town | December 8, 2022” on Spreaker.

Consultants in a recent agency assessment found that West Virginia had the lowest life expectancy, the highest rate of drug-related deaths, the highest percentage of minors in foster care, the second highest in food insecurity and access to Care comes in 35th place.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Civil Rights Office briefed the state on an investigation into whether DHHR engages in “unlawful discrimination based on disability” in state facilities.

And lawmakers have continued to express concerns about vulnerable youth because child protection services are few in number.

“Our state health outcomes are abysmal, and the most vulnerable populations — like the elderly, disabled and children — are falling victim to a failing system,” Summers said. “It’s not the workers, it’s not the people; but it is the system. We have numerous failures and we will focus on that.

“It is our legal duty to ensure that these populations receive the protection they need.”

Earlier this year, a bipartisan spectrum of West Virginia lawmakers said experience had taught them that the state’s largest agency was simply too unwieldy to get a handle on its operations or finances. DHHR’s total annual budget is US$7.5 billion to address a wide range of health and community issues.

“It’s not really a size issue because if you look, there are huge companies across the country run by a single CEO. So it’s not just that,” Summers said. “But it is the state’s failure to protect these vulnerable populations that I have spoken about. Smaller organizations allow for a more focused mission for more accountability in the areas that worry us so much.”

Gov. Jim Justice vetoed a bill that would have split the agency, saying a reorganization would require longer and more careful consideration. The governor called for a top-down review.

One of the key recommendations of the review is the establishment of a seven-person leadership team accountable for unified leadership and better coordination.

In addition to the current Cabinet Secretary, this would include an Assistant Secretary for Child Protection, an Assistant Secretary for Substance Abuse Disorders, an Assistant Secretary for Access and Eligibility, and the State Health Commissioner, Director of the Center for Threat Preparedness, and a Chief Operating Officer.

“By putting the right people in the right places, we will continue the important work that DHHR is responsible for,” DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said in a recent news conference.

DHHR has released a series of leadership announcements.

“They’re trying to fulfill what this report says by hiring some people in the organizational structure to put a little bit more bureaucracy at the top of the system,” Summers said. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think it will fix the process issues we have in the day-to-day activities that DHHR is responsible for.”

Summers and other delegates are likely to revisit the DHHR structure this year. It’s not yet clear if the strategy of splitting up the agency would remain the same or if there could be another option.

Roger Hanshaw

“We need to take action on this,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw told R-Clay while speaking on MetroNews’ Talkline. “Actions can come in many forms. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just a meat cleaver brought to the DHHR and chopped up at random.”

Hanshaw said discussions have already been held with the Department of Justice and the Senate about how to make the agency more efficient and responsive. “I think one of the things you’re probably going to do is really try to bring the focus back to DHHR’s core mission: what is it supposed to do, who is there to serve, and how do we provide it properly and occupy it? ?”

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said the government needs to show improvements at the agency that deals with health and quality of life issues in West Virginia.

“I would urge the governor to deal with this,” Blair said on the Talkline. “This is strictly an executive job and we are trying to help but we are limited. The governor can do this right.”

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