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WV Legislative Interims: Health and Human Resources Accountability committee hears update on DHHR

WV Press Staff Report

WHEELING, W.Va. – The West Virginia Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCHHRA), on Sunday, met at The Health Plan’s Wheeling offices to hear status updates regarding the transformation of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR). 

 Dr. Sherri Young, who currently serves as the DHHR’s Interim Secretary, but will soon take the position of Secretary for the newly-created Department of Health, was first to address the committee.

“Within the Bureau for Public Health (BPH), obviously that’s the biggest department within the Department of Public Health, we have about 170 vacancies,” Young said. “I’ve really tried to understand what we can do to address those vacancies, and what the best way forward is.”

Young explained that the first step in understanding how to fill the vacancies was determining what positions have remained vacant the longest, noting that, “A lot of these are nurses, a lot of these are social workers – these are people that need to be at the table for public health.”

Young further explained that long term commitment from employees is also harder to come by, adding that, “We have a nurse that’s been with the state for 46-and-a-half-years. You can’t find that kind of dedication.”

“One of the things that we did promise as the new Department of Health is that we’re going to look at outcomes,” Young continued. “Looking at these programs – some of these things have been under our nose the entire time.”

A specific concern that Young addressed was being unable to fill positions vacated by future retirees, noting that 53% of DHHR employees will be eligible for retirement in 2029.

Next before the committee was Dr. Cynthia Persily, incoming Secretary of the Department of Human Services. She began, much like Young did, by explaining that her department has been evaluating vacancies.

“We identified about 40 positions that are deemed no longer necessary within the various bureaus within the department,” Persily said. “We will continue to be looking at positions each time somebody leaves before we advertise, before we start to fill a position.”

“The budget request that you’ll see during the legislative session will include using a portion of those funds that are being saved by those 40 positions to provide salary increases in particular classifications,” Persily noted. “But we know that that is certainly up to you and your decisions about the future budget.”

According to Persily, other key factors in reducing the number of department employees include evaluating processes, investing in technology, and improving general efficiency.

“We’ve also been undertaking contract review,” Persily added. “This is currently ongoing. We have completed a review of all contracts that we have in place with external organizations, and looking at whether they’re meeting the scope of work that was designated in the contract.”

Michael Caruso, incoming Secretary of the Department of Health Facilities, was the meeting’s final presenter. 

“We have 7 hospitals, and 511 long term care beds,” Caruso said. “We have spent tremendous time on our financial statements – making sure that we look at our hospitals like the industry does. We are adjusting probably 200 applicants from positions we are eliminating. Some positions will survive on contract staff.”

According to Caruso, the financial savings from eliminated positions will be reallocated between different departments. 

“On the HR (Human Resources) end, we’ll be looking at wage adjustments,” Caruso added. “We’re also potentially looking at some changes with technology.”

The Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability will meet again next month when the Legislature returns to Charleston for the Dec. Interim Session, scheduled for Dec. 10 – 12.