W.Va. DHHR, Gov. staff meets on reforms

Governor's staff meets with DHHR leadership, one week after a failed attempt by lawmakers to receive an update on the agency's transition plan.
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 6:39 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The Department of Health and Human Resources touches every life -- young and old -- in West Virginia, and work is well underway to split that agency in three by New Year’s Day -- a Department of Health Facilities, a Department of Human Services and a Department of Health.

Lawmakers believe it will breathe new efficiencies and accountability into crucial programs that serve your family.

Yet, when the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability asked for a transition plan last week, they got this answer from DHHR’s interim secretary, Jeffrey Coben.

“Unfortunately, I am unable to do that at this time, because I have not yet had the requisite meetings with the Governor’s Office to discuss that plan in depth, and to really provide their input to help craft the plan,” he told lawmakers April 17. “Next week, I will be meeting, there are several, hour-meetings scheduled with the Governor’s team.”

So now, a week later, WSAZ NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson went to the governor for an update.

“Have those meetings taken place?” Johnson asked Wednesday. “If so, what decisions have been made? If not, why the delay? And, finally, what can you tell citizens about the transition of this important agency?”

“Well, first of all Curtis, I do know the meeting took place, and it took place today. You know, my chief of staff was there, and everything, and they did the working plan today,” Justice replied. “Dr. Coben can give us more, and more, and more updates on it. I do think we’re making some real headway on DHHR, and we want to continue that.”

Justice, a Republican, told Johnson his office would be transparent with the transition plan. He expects Dr. Coben will take part in next week’s briefing with more information.

Del. Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, cited DHHR’s history of communication problems at the April 17 meeting.

Coben told her and fellow lawmakers that he is working to fix that issue. He pointed to 21 town hall meetings with about 2,500 employees, most of those in-person, and a internal website to answer frequently asked questions. He says its a process he plans to continue with employees and the public at large.

“We recognize that even the people that we serve may have questions about, ‘Well, do I have to call somebody differently now, then I used to call before,’” he told Tully.

Those communications plans will be taking shape in the weeks to come, Coben said.

The new law takes effect in late May. However, the DHHR will continue to operate at one unit until the split occurs on New Year’s Day.