WV lawmakers eye DHHR shakeup as ill health persists

BERKELEY SPRINGS — Inside a conference room at the rustic lodge at Cacapone State Park, Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch sat with two cookies in one hand and a pepperoni roll in the other. They were at their last meeting of the legislative interim session, watching lawmakers question their staffers about the data they had collected and some felt they failed to properly compile and present.

It was a continuation of another contentious meeting, where lawmakers lambasted Crouch and his agency for failing to address issues at the department that are hurting some of the most vulnerable West Virginians. The lawmakers’ anger also included a team of consultants who concluded that splitting up DHHR would not substantially improve the department’s issues or help those who need the agency most, including seniors, foster Children and people in recovery are included. Splitting up the agency was the only solution lawmakers could agree on during the last legislative session, and now, following a $1 million report commissioned by the government. growing problems.

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said, “We have gotten the same results time and time again by doing exactly the same things.” “What can I interpret here, you’re saying throw more money, give more time, but keep doing the same thing. That’s what I got from your report. Frankly, it sounds like a waste of our taxpayers’ dollars.” A million dollar waste.

But none of these problems are new, and neither Crouch nor the MPs came to the meeting with any concrete ideas on how to address them. Now, while lawmakers say legislation to either reorganize the DHHR or target specific health issues will be a priority during the upcoming legislative session, it’s unclear whether the supermajority lawmakers with a history of disagreement over health policies will be able to make a two-pronged decision. How to proceed with any part of the vision.

Fixing a Problematic Health Department

During the last legislative session, lawmakers considered bills to address some of the Department of Health and Human Resources’ most glaring problems, including accountability in the foster care system and low pay for state-employed social workers. But despite bipartisan support, none made it past the finish line. The only bill that did—a measure to split the agency in two—was vetoed by the justices. Meanwhile, West Virginia remains one of the unhealthiest states in the country, and lawmakers hear report after report alleging abuse of some of the most vulnerable people in the agency’s care.

Also in that time, adults with disabilities in DHHR’s care have died in state-run facilities, and the department has been unresponsive to probing questions from lawmakers about how this happened and how to fix it.

While nearly all lawmakers agree that West Virginia’s many health issues need to be addressed, some in the majority caucus argue that in order to address these issues, the problems at DHHR must first be resolved.

Sen. Jack Woodrum, R-Samar, said the department is essential in helping legislators make decisions about health policy, but required reports sometimes go incomplete. The issue hits close to home for her, as five children have died in the last few years either in foster care or as a result of abuse or neglect in her district. Last year, a bipartisan bill that aimed to improve child abuse reporting in the foster care system was stalled by Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and ultimately did not pass.

The department’s poor information puts you in a position where you can’t make an informed decision about what you need to do, Woodrum said. It’s one of those things that is troubling us and unfortunately, we have people who are dying because we don’t have information.

Woodrum’s point was underscored at Monday afternoon’s meeting about the maternal mortality rate in West Virginia, which is higher than in much of the country, especially for non-white residents.

Woodrum expressed concern that required reports on the issue were not provided to MPs prior to the meeting. A DHHR representative said the agency had the data, but had not yet compiled it into a report.

addressing health issues

Fixing the DHHR alone is not enough to reverse the problems with social services and poor health trends in West Virginia. To be sure, a more responsive agency could provide better data illuminating possible solutions, and keeping some of the most vulnerable West Virginians out of danger in the care of the state. But it’s up to lawmakers to enact new policies to increase access to affordable and quality health care, and so far they’ve failed to get many meaningful measures across the finish line.

“Unfortunately, we see too many studies and we get too many recommendations, and too often the legislature fails to act or address the root causes of our poor public health outcomes,” said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Can. Said, who recently won re-election and is the chairman of the state Democratic Party. “Many efforts never make it onto the agenda, or many bills that do get passed are not funded.”

In the past session alone, lawmakers failed to pass a bill aimed at holding accountable and reforming the state’s foster care system, which a Mountain State Spotlight investigation found documented cases of abuse and neglect of children in state care. With has been sent to homes outside the state. , The bill had bipartisan support, but was bogged down in the Senate Finance Committee and then died at the end of the session. Similarly, bills to reduce the cost of insulin and provide increases for state-employed social workers, whom DHHR has struggled to hire and retain, also failed despite bipartisan support.

Ultimately, state social workers got pay raises from Justice, who unilaterally allocated dedicated funds to fill vacant positions.

And even though West Virginia’s overdose and substance abuse rates remain high, lawmakers haven’t passed any substantial legislation to address the problem. Instead, despite years of state-commissioned reports indicating that harsher criminal sentences for drug offenders weren’t helping the state’s high rates of substance abuse disorders, lawmakers voted to keep fentanyl under many circumstances. Passed increasing penalties for those arrested for.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including the Republican majority leader, agree that changes need to be made and will be a priority in the coming session. But no concrete plan has been made public yet.

“I’ve only heard of legislation addressing DHHR,” Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanha, who said there are still about two months to go before the regular season. “Our foster care bill went bad last year and we never really got anything passed. Substance abuse is another problem we haven’t touched much on over the years. I hope those things happen, But I haven’t heard anyone talking about it yet.

At this point of the year, lawmakers’ list of priorities is long and varied, from tackling substance abuse disorders to addressing maternal mortality, to increasing access to contraceptives and helping adoptive parents. .

Over the next months, Republican legislative leaders will speak with their caucuses and identify priority policy proposals that have the potential to pass with a majority. And in January, they’ll present him to the public.

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