Photo caption: Department of Health and Human Resources leaders shared with lawmakers the latest progress report on the implementation of the split legislation during a legislative interim meeting in Wheeling, W.Va. on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. (Will Price | West Virginia Legislative Photography)
State lawmakers want to make certain the roll out helps reduce spending and employee redundancy. The split legislation could see edits in January to help the departments’ outcomes.
BY: AMELIA FERRELL KNISELY – NOVEMBER 13, 2023 10:38 AM
State health department leaders, tasked with splitting the behemoth department by the start of the new year, are working to fill vacancies while also eliminating unnecessary positions.
State lawmakers earlier this year mandated that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources split into three agencies in an effort to improve department outcomes and transparency. The bill, which lawmakers worked on for more than a year, followed mounting scrutiny on DHHR for its treatment of vulnerable children and adults.
The Republican-majority Legislature also wanted to reign in DHHR spending as the department has a $7.5 billion budget, the largest of any state agency.
On Sunday, DHHR leaders shared with lawmakers the latest progress report on the implementation of the split legislation, House Bill 2006, and much of their discussion focused on streamlining efforts and eliminating positions where they can.
The three new departments are: the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Health Facilities.
DHHR Interim Secretary Sherri Young said there are currently 171 vacancies within the Bureau for Public Health.
“[We are] also looking at maybe some of these things don’t need to be regional any longer because it is harder to fill positions not only across the state, but in several areas as well,” said Young, who will go on to lead the new Department of Health.
She noted that some of the vacancies are nurses and social workers, who they want to make sure are part of their public health response moving forward.
Cynthia Persily, incoming secretary for the Department of Human Services, said her department had 40 vacancies that were no longer necessary.
“We will continue to be looking at positions each time someone leaves before we advertise, before we start to fill a position,” she said.
The split legislation also created an Office of Shared Administration, where the departments’ three new respective secretaries will share employees for administrative tasks in order to reduce costs and streamline services. The implementation of this office is due on June 30, according to the bill.
The new secretaries have shared that implementing his part of the bill has been a hurdle as departments sometimes needed their own administrators, including grant writers, with specific knowledge of DHHR programs and how they’re funded.
“It’s going to be hard to split,” Young said.
Delegate Amy Summers, co-chair of the interim Committee on Health and Human Resources Accountability, asked the new secretaries to contemplate if this part of the legislation should be changed by lawmakers in the 2024 Legislative Session.
“As I’m looking at the development of the departments, I worry that I just see some sort of redundancy,” said Summers, R-Taylor. “When I look at the structures, I see the same offices in all of the departments as we have in the Office of Shared Administration.”
She continued, “If you think maybe our vision for that is incorrect and perhaps the office of shared services employees need [to be] divided into the regular departments … we would have to change legislation for January.”
In response, Young said they hope to minimize the number of full-time employees while maximizing available resources.
“We’re truly open to whatever will work,” she said.
Lawmakers are expected to hear another update on the split implementation in December ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline for the majority of the bill.
** West Virginia Watch is a nonprofit media source. Articles are shared under creative commons license. Please visit https://westvirginiawatch.com/ for more independent Mountain State news coverage.