Justice and Crouch defend organizational review of DHHR | News, Sports, Jobs

QUESTIONING STUDY — House Majority Leader Amy Summers questions representatives of the McChrystal Group on Sunday about her recommendations for additional assistant secretaries for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. — Photo Courtesy/WV Legislative Photography

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch have defended the results of a million-dollar review of the huge agency after lawmakers attacked the report as dull.

Speaking Monday during a virtual COVID-19 briefing with Capitol reporters, Justice said the report his office released last week by the McChrystal Group on an organizational assessment and strategic plan for DHHR will be implemented.

“We went out and got a great, credible report,” Justice said. “We didn’t tell them what kind of result to propose, nothing. We told them to give us the best recommendations, period. And that’s what we’ve done. Let’s absolutely analyze and work and try to improve things.

The McChrystal Group report recommends that agency leaders develop detailed action plans and goals; create a leadership team consisting of additional assistant secretaries and integration teams; investing in leadership development starting at the executive level down to the office; improve communication and collaboration; and prioritize business process improvements.

“They looked at the structure of DHHR, but they also looked at the issues in West Virginia and looked at what West Virginians need in terms of DHHR services,” said Crouch. “I’m very happy with that. We have already started determining how we are going to implement this. We are proceeding immediately as the Governor has instructed me to do and we will ensure that it is done.

The report also recommends keeping DHHR as one department instead of splitting it into two. House Bill 4020, passed in the 2022 legislative session, would have separated DHHR into the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources. But the judiciary vetoed the bill in March, calling instead for an independent top-down review by DHHR.

“We were shooting from the hip, we really were,” Justice declared HB 4020 on Monday. “We went out and got the best of the whole country…and with each one of them (the McChrystal band) we spent hours and hours digging into every facet imaginable. Outside groups, inside groups, internally and whatever. Then they came with a report.

If that report had come back and said “separate it”, I would have been for it in every way,“Court continued. “But just doing it for the sake of doing it so we can stand on a soapbox and clap, and really and truly at the end of the day, we can blow our legs, I’m not there.

DHHR’s current fiscal year budget of $7.5 billion includes both state and federal funding. DHHR spending accounts for more than a quarter of the state’s $4.6 billion general revenue budget and is the second largest expenditure behind public education. The agency has more than 4,900 full-time staff and is at the forefront of multiple health and social issues, from the opioid epidemic to the foster care crisis.

Lawmakers were briefed on the DHHR report on Sunday during the first day of November’s interim legislative meetings at Cacapon Resort State Park in Berkeley Springs. Lawmakers’ reaction to the report’s findings has not been positive, given that DHHR’s contract with the McChrystal Group cost more than $1 million.

“The report is titled a top-down review…top-down, to me, means all-encompassing,” said Senate Speaker Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. “This misses the title target… Frankly, it looks like a waste of $1 million of our taxpayers’ money on what we have in front of us.”

“I’ve been here since 2002. I’ve seen this repeated over and over again, the concerns no matter which party or who ran the administration,” Blair continued. “We got the same results over and over and over again doing the same thing. From what I can interpret here, you’re saying throw away more money and throw away more time, but keep doing the same thing.

“We’ve tried all of these things in the past,” said House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor. “We had three assistant secretaries. We had integrated teams. This is where I worry about the gist of the report…we are disappointed with the substance of the report.

“Whether or not you believe the report is excellent or you don’t believe it is excellent, you should at least recognize that this effort was absolutely made by a great and very credible group,” Justice said. “The effort was made to try to find resolutions and solutions that could really help us in the DHHR. That’s all we can say about it.”

Instead of answering a question about how the report’s recommendations would be implemented, Justice went on a rant attacking Republican lawmakers for expressing frustration at the Amendment 2 defeat of DHHR and the McChrystal Group. . Amendment 2 would have allowed the Legislature to exempt taxes on tangible personal property. Justice stormed the state against the amendment, which voters rejected last week.

“We must behave like adults and not like simple irrational children”, Justice said. “There have been age-old issues at DHHR that have been dealt with by governor after governor after governor. We now have a plan. We now have a report from a very reputable group, and what we need to do is implement it and implement it now as quickly as possible.

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Aubrey L. Morgan