West Virginia’s health and human resources secretary told lawmakers the agency he leads isn’t broken, but he’s open to guidance for fixing it.
“DHHR is not broken. Folks say these things long enough and you start to believe them,” said Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources. “We can improve. We can get better. There is no reason why we shouldn’t. And we should be trying to do that every day.”
Crouch was speaking Tuesday afternoon before the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability, which includes members of both the House and Senate.
The context was that during the regular legislative session lawmakers had passed a bill to divide the agency into the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources. They said that would help get a better handle on the enormous agency and its responsibilities.
Gov. Jim Justice vetoed House Bill 4020, saying the restructuring hadn’t been fully considered.
The governor said his administration would work with national experts and industry leaders for a top-to-bottom review “so that we may clearly identify its issues, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies. In the past week, the Justice administration has put out a request for proposals.
The request asks for an organizational assessment and a strategic plan.
It says: The State of West Virginia Purchasing Division for the agency, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, is soliciting proposals to establish an open-end contract to provide strategic assessments and management consulting services per the attached documents.”
Crouch said he is up for whatever comes of that.
“I want to make it clear that regardless of what that recommendation is, I’m supportive,” he said. “I have no reason not to be. The whole idea is to improve the services to the State of West Virginia, to improve the services to the people of West Virginia.”
Former Delegate Don Perdue, who served as chairman of the House Health Committee a decade ago, also appeared before lawmakers today and described the ordeal of trying to restructure DHHR over the years.
He called it a “whack-a-mole approach.”
“I made several attempts to split the department over my tenure, the last being in 2012, I believe,” Perdue said. “Each time the secretary would listen politely, spend as little time as necessary with me, move a few pieces around on the board and then move on. Only the governor would retie anything we tried to unravel.
“You see, the secretary — despite his or her charge to protect the health of every West Virginian — has really only one client, one constituent whose health must be protected. This creates a bond of mutual support that makes any secretary’s viewpoint extremely powerful, and none of those secretaries during my tenures favored reorganization. So there’s the politics of it.”
Governor Justice will take a thorough review seriously, said the administration’s chief of staff, Brian Abraham.
“The governor understood that DHHR for a long period of time now has had issues. I think this sharpened his focus on that,” Abraham told lawmakers. “And one thing the governor instills upon us is, the smartest person is one who is willing to recognize and admit they don’t know everything.
“So not knowing what you don’t know is sometimes the most important. But there are experts out there who do know and do have those answers.”
The bids, he said, should be opened and reviewed by state officials like the administration secretary and the deputy chief of staff. Responses are due back in early May, and then 120 days after the contract is issued a final plan should be in place.
“This can’t just languish and take another year and another year,” Abraham said.
House Health Chairman Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, started considering the calendar and proposed examining the issue again in November.
“Sounds like we’ve got an agenda for the November interims,” Rohrbach said.
“I’ll be back here,” Abraham responded.