Support DHHR Head in Reforms

For many West Virginians, the Department of Health and Human Resources is the most important agency in the state. Nearly one-fourth of the state’s general revenue budget supports the DHHR.

It has grown to be an unwieldy, inefficient, sometimes wasteful bureaucracy, a consulting firm reported last year. The company recommended 78 reforms. Among them was splitting the DHHR into two separate agencies.

This week, DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling explained to state legislators the changes she wants to make. Instead of breaking the agency apart, she wants to appoint three deputy secretaries to handle its various responsibilities.

Simply shuffling the bureaucracy seldom is appealing as an answer to government that isn’t doing its work adequately. Too often, that merely creates more layers of officialdom in which accountability can be buried and neglected.

Bowling’s idea makes sense, however – providing she and the three new deputy secretaries she wants are held accountable for results at the DHHR.

One deputy would manage the bureaus of Children and Families and Child Support Enforcement. Another would handle the bureaus of Public Health and Behavioral Health, and Health Facilities. The third would oversee public insurance programs and strategic planning.

That last item, planning, was identified by the consultant as a particular shortcoming in the DHHR. In essence, the consultant concluded, the agency’s hierarchy is so busy handling day-to-day operations that it cannot develop better ways of doing things.

Bowling has been in office only since July 1. She needs time to uncover and implement all the changes needed at the DHHR. There are many, as the consultant’s report makes clear.

To Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s credit, he did not look to the existing bureaucracy when he chose Bowling. She has hands-on experience as a nurse and has worked with a county school system. She also has more than 20 years’ experience in health care administration, including a stint as chief executive officer of Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley.

So Bowling comes from a results-oriented atmosphere into the jungle of managing the DHHR.

Her record is appealing. Her explanation for changing administration of the DHHR makes sense.

Legislators and Tomblin should allow her to put her own team in place, with the three new deputy secretaries. Then, she should be given an appropriate amount of time to implement reforms at the DHHR.

Lawmakers should get regular progress reports from her – insisting on results. Again, the DHHR is too important to too many West Virginians to be permitted to continue down the path it seems to have been on for several years.