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W.Va. Legislative Leaders To Focus More on DHHR During Interims

West Virginia House of Delegates Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, speaks on the House floor in this file photo. During legislative interim meetings on Sunday, Summers said lawmakers should ask the Department of Health and Human resources for more detailed monthly reports on specific issues rather than the more broad reports they currently receive. (Photo Courtesy of W.Va. Legislative Photography)

MORGANTOWN – The leaders of the West Virginia Legislature’s most powerful committee want the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources to present monthly reports during interim meetings focused on specific issues as the state puts the agency under a microscope.

The Joint Committee on Government and Finance – consisting of the majority and minority leaders of the state Senate and House of Delegates and the chairs of major committees – met Sunday afternoon at the Erickson Alumni Center on the Morgantown campus of West Virginia University.

The joint committee manages the day-to-day operations of the West Virginia Legislature, its interim committees, and receives mandatory reports from a number of state agencies each month. Part of Sunday’s meeting was spent deciding what kinds of reports it wishes to receive, the specific data in each report, and the frequency of the report.

The topic of discussion turned to DHHR – a department that manages more than 4,900 full-time employees and more than $7 billion in combined state and federal funding. The joint committee receives broad reports from the department, but some lawmakers believe it would be more productive to get a report each month that focuses on one aspect of DHHR.

“I feel like on DHHR, we need different data,” said House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor. “Maybe each month we zero in on one particular thing…to get a deeper dive, because just get a skimming of everything.”

Gov. Jim Justice called for a top-down review of DHHR in March after vetoing the bill to split the department into two new departments. DHHR put out a request for proposals last month for companies to audit DHHR, with DHG Healthcare and the McChrystal Group being the only companies to submit bids.

A 2014 audit under former governor Earl Ray Tomblin called for breaking DHHR into two but was never acted on. And HB 4020, passed during the 2022 legislative session, would have separated DHHR into the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources.

“There have several things that have been crisis situations with DHHR which has led to a lot of discussion about breaking it up and looking at it to see how many sections it should or shouldn’t be,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam. “I’d like to see when we’ve got things in (DHHR) that are the bringing fires…that every time they come here, they give us the number on the size of that fire and if we’re making progress or if we’re not.”

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said that the Senate Finance Committee sent a letter to the joint committee in January requesting an in-depth briefing from DHHR before the end of the 2022 session on March 12. That briefing did not occur.

“It’s been several months now and there’s a lot going on with DHHR,” Baldwin said. “That would provide an opportunity for some of those specific conversations that have already been identified through the legislative process as a starting point.”

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, welcomed former DHHR deputy secretary Jeremiah Samples as the latest staff member for the joint committee. Samples served as DHHR deputy secretary under cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch since 2017 until last month, when Samples left the department citing differences of opinion with the direction the department was going in.

Samples began his career at DHHR in 2006, returning in 2013 after stints with the Governor’s Office of Health Enhancement and Lifestyle Planning and the West Virginia Offices of the Insurance Commissioner. Blair said Samples would be an invaluable resource for lawmakers as they review the workings of DHHR.

“Jeremiah Samples, who all of us here have used extensively over the years working with the DHHR, has been a tremendous asset personally for me,” Blair said. “As we move forward, he is in a consulting role working with us. This is all in a positive fashion, not a negative. It’s not designed to undermine anyone of anybody.”

“When I listen to a lot of this, I need an interpreter; I need someone to explain to me what is going on,” Blair continued. “Jeremiah Samples has been that interpreter for me for many years so I was able to make the right decision on what is going on. That’s a common thread.”

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