Outgoing DHHR deputy cites differences with Crouch, challenges of agency

West Virginia’s deputy health and human resources secretary, who abruptly parted ways with the agency, today described pervasive challenges and differences of opinion with Secretary Bill Crouch about how to deal with them.

Jeremiah Samples

“Unfortunately, Secretary Crouch and I have not shared the same views on what the problems are, how to handle them, or the urgency of achieving results, but I respect this parting of ways and pray for the state’s success in solving these issues,” Jeremiah Samples, former deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, said in a statement released today.

Samples, a longtime agency employee, abruptly departed DHHR on Friday. DHHR would only confirm that he left.

Crouch, during a news briefing today, described the situation as a personnel matter.

Bill Crouch

“This is a personnel issue, and we’re not going to get into the details of this,” Crouch said. “But as the governor says often, we all have to pull the rope in the same direction. This is a large agency. We have to have everybody on board in terms of what we’re doing.”

Gov. Jim Justice also said he wouldn’t discuss the details of Samples’ departure.

“I’m not going to get into personnel matters with an individual,” Justice said. “I’m not going to do that because a lot of the specifics I don’t know. And it’s really not proper for me to do that.  I’m going to thank Jeremiah for his work that he did here.”

Samples was well-respected and often praised at the state Legislature for his insight about policy and knowledge of the agency’s budget.

“Any time a legislator, specifically me as finance chair, has a question on any information I need to know within DHHR, whether it’s budgetary or regarding contracts, the go-to person would be Jeremiah,” said Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, speaking today on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio.

“And Jeremiah would be Johnny on the spot, getting the information that we needed getting the information that we needed — and also to try to make an aggressive and fast, positive change when we asked for something to be done if it could be done outside of legislative action.”

DHHR was among several hot-button issues during this past legislative session. A bill that Gov. Jim Justice wound up vetoing would have split the agency into two, the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources. Lawmakers from both parties said a split would make the budget and duties of the agency easier to handle.

Another bill focused on foster care would have established a front-facing dashboard meant to provide more information about how to help the vulnerable children in the system, but lawmakers failed to complete its passage.

And leaders in the state Senate asked for an audit of the agency, expressing concern over many of the long-term problems with finances, information technology issues, staffing shortages, the status of foster children sent out of state for care and more.

Samples, in his statement today, alluded to many of those issues.

“Despite having an allocated budget of ~$7.5 BILLION, tireless dedication by wonderful staff and Commissioners, and an expectation for success from the Governor, DHHR has struggled to make, and even lost, progress in many critical areas,” Samples stated.

“Child welfare, substance use disorder, protection of the vulnerable, management of state health facilities, EMS and provider capacity, supporting client transition from public assistance to the workforce, contract management, and many more DHHR responsibilities have simply not met anyone’s expectation, especially my own.

“While the answers to these problems are complex, solutions must be found.  As a society, we can never forget that every statistic is a real person. We must do better.”

He continued, “For every child protected from harm and family supported, I am far more cognizant, even haunted, by those that have not been saved or that will go unsaved tomorrow.  I cannot properly articulate the level of responsibility I personally feel for those suffering and struggling that I have not been able to help.”

Lawmakers including House Majority Amy Summers, R-Taylor, publicly agreed with that assessment. Delegate Kayla Young, a Democrat from Kanawha County, concurred.

Dianna Graves

Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, also praised Samples for his knowledge and insight. Graves has been a vocal supporter of reorganizing DHHR and, during the legislative session, expressed criticism of Crouch’s misgivings.

“What’s happening to Jeremiah is an example of the dysfunction within DHHR. When DHHR has an employee who works tirelessly, is brilliant and dedicated, could go elsewhere and make so much more… and yet is fired for what amounts to a technicality, there is quite obviously a serious problem in leadership that needs to be addressed,” Graves said today.

Graves said the governor is well aware of issues that must be addressed at DHHR and wants to solve them.

“He knows Jeremiah and people like him are part of the solution to those problems. Jeremiah is transparent, beyond capable, has the full trust of the Legislature, and is one of the best public servants with which I have ever worked,” Graves said.

“Does anyone understand how rare that is in an arena filled with intrigue and suspicion? To have public servants who will tell the truth even when it’s hard to hear, who serve above and beyond what is required because they do actually care about the people of this state? Jeremiah is one of those people. His loss to DHHR is incalculable.”

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, alluded to pervasive issues at DHHR and praised Samples for his efforts in trying to alleviate them.

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