CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The new Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said the size of the agency, which spends billions of dollars each year and employs thousands of people, is not the main problem.
“What has been probably the challenge in our organization is maybe the way we’ve managed it or maybe a lack of integration, a lack of structural clarity so people know how to use the system to their advantage,” said Karen Bowling.
Bowling, who is from Beckley, took over as DHHR Secretary on July 1. She was in front of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Resources Accountability on Monday at the State Capitol.
She talked about a new strategic direction DHHR is implementing, focused on serving the health needs of West Virginians, and compared its provisions to recommendations in a comprehensive audit from Public Works that was released to the public earlier this year.
“We want to foster solutions,” said Bowling. “We can talk about it, but we want to do something about it. We want solutions. We want people to give us their ideas. We’re open to suggestions. We want to hear from the stakeholders in the community.”
The audit from Public Works concluded West Virginia’s health care system is “fraught with systemic challenges involving rising health care costs, poor health outcomes and lack of access to appropriate care.”
“However, West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources and other health care agencies, rather than working together to mitigate these problems, are beset by fragmentation, an insufficient workforce, and the lack of an overarching strategic vision and a sustained mechanism for accountability,” the report said.
The Public Works audit included 78 recommendations that, researchers said, could save the state more than $56 million.
Bowling said there are a lot of details that will have to be addressed before any large scale overhaul for DHHR which has an annual budget of $4 billion. About $2.7 billion of that amount comes from the federal government, mostly for Medicaid.
“We believe that we’re very integrated and that it needs to continue to be integrated. Public Works agrees with that,” she said. “How we reorganize, though, the specifics of it is, sort of, yet to be determined, but the idea is to decrease the bureaucracy and add to the interconnectivity between the bureaus.”
September interim meetings for state lawmakers continue through Wednesday at the State Capitol.