This year’s legislative session began with such concern about the agency dealing with West Virginia’s deepest health and wellness issues, that top senators from both parties have called for further scrutiny. of the nature of the problems.
Across the Capitol, members of the House of Delegates expressed frustration at passing a bill that would split the massive Department of Health and Human Resources in two. House Bill 4020 now will be considered by members of the State Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, who first publicly proposed a legislative review of issues at DHHR, sees a direct link between the initiatives.
“I think it’s related,” said Baldwin, D-Greenbrier. He cited financial concerns due to the enormity of the agency’s overall budget of $7.5 billion in state and federal spending. He also described service-related concerns about the ability to do more for children and families. And addiction recovery was another area of concern.
“Some leaders feel that no one is responsible. What do we do? Who coordinates all these efforts? Who says this program works, this program does not work; who allocates the resources based on that? I think there are questions about the direction of the agency and the nature of the leadership and the leadership structure there right now.
Baldwin was particularly concerned about a tragedy in a community he represents. A 2020 Greenbrier County woman killed five young boys, burned down the family’s home, then took her own life. A few weeks earlier, a dental hygienist makes a referral to a child protection hotline, but her concern apparently went no further.
While discussing these issues more recently, Baldwin was at a press conference to voice his support for a bill that would make a variety of changes to programs supporting West Virginia’s most vulnerable children.
On the larger issues, Baldwin said it was important to focus on how the agency would work best in the long term. “It’s a lot bigger than anyone,” he said. “This is a significant structural problem that has existed in West Virginia for decades.”
Members of the House of Delegates discussed the sheer size of DHHR, financially and structurally, while advancing the bill to split it into the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources.
Mastering the agency means making that division, the bill’s supporters said.
“It’s by far the biggest part of state government,” House Health President Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said on MetroNews’ “Talkline” last week.
“This is something that, frankly, was long overdue. As DHHR grew, it became imperative to split this in half.
He said it made sense to split the large agency into one agency focused on health and another on human welfare issues. “The reason these splits make a lot of sense is that they’re really, really different buckets.” he said.
“I think right now we just have one person, whoever that is, pulled in too many different directions. I see it more as focused leadership. Not that our current secretary is not a competent leader, but I think we will get a better product if we have a leader focused on human resources and another focused on the health aspects of DHHR.
There is a bill that would divide the Department of Health and Human Resources in two. Why does Dr. Matthew Rohrbach, chairman of the House Health Committee (R-Cabell), think this would help? Dr. Rohrbach joins @HoppyKercheval. LOOK: https://t.co/yCFQ3nDJuy pic.twitter.com/J5UZP52hfn
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) March 3, 2022
DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch is the guy right now. During budget hearings before lawmakers earlier in the session, Crouch acknowledged a series of deep challenges, including the ability to retain employees like child protective services workers, the fate of foster children sent out-of-state facilities and West Virginia’s ongoing fight against the opioid crisis.
“We are struggling and I am worried. I’m calm about it, but I’m worried,” Crouch said during a House budget hearing under pressure from Delegate Dianna Graves.
On the DHHR split, however, Crouch warned that the rift could be more complicated than it looks, especially financially. “The idea that you could take a $7.5 billion department and split it in half and keep everything the same under it, I just don’t think that makes sense,” Crouch told the finance committee. from the room.
Graves, R-Kanawha, argued against that conclusion in remarks in committee and then on the floor of the House. She drew a direct line between the size of the agency and how it tackles the state’s most pervasive problems.
Graves suggested that while the cost of splitting the agency is high, lawmakers should weigh it against the needs of children. sent out of state to live“Is it worth it for you to stop having kids in West Virginia who sleep alone, terrified and alone, in hotel rooms — and the only thing we gave them to comfort themselves is a garbage bag filled with their clothes? What do you think your voters would prefer? »
Graves cited West Virginia’s struggles with drug addiction. “It’s really hard to say that West Virginia has dealt with the drug crisis in a stellar way,” she said. “Having to channel nearly all of our efforts through a massively inefficient agency doesn’t work.”