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This is a developing story and will be updated.
Updated on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022 at 1:30 p.m.
Gov. Jim Justice announced in a livestream Monday morning that Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch will retire effective Dec. 31, 2022. Justice said Crouch has held the position for almost six years.
“It’s a position that came with COVID, and all the different ramifications of COVID,” Justice said. “We should absolutely all be very thankful and appreciative of the job that he’s done, because it’s one almost thankless job. Bill Crouch led us through all this and absolutely did an amazing job.”
Crouch’s retirement comes amid a number of legislative concerns regarding DHHR client outcomes and not meeting staffing and health care challenges. He was also dealing with a federal investigation on alleged disability discrimination.
In his resignation letter, the 72-year-old Crouch responded to what he calls a “year of constant scrutiny.”
“DHHR staff have become collateral damage and that is wrong. The staff of DHHR are the most dedicated and smartest group of people that I have ever worked with, and I thank them for their hard work and their loyalty,” Crouch said in his letter. “That is not to say that DHHR is perfect. We need to continue to make improvements, but the perception that everything is broken is wrong.”
Saying he’s an impatient man who wants results efficiently and quickly with the challenges DHHR faces, Justice named Dr. Jeff Coben, Dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health, as Interim DHHR Secretary. Coben said he’s well versed in DHHR operations.
“I’ve spent about 12 years working closely with the dedicated staff of DHHR,” Coben said. “I look forward to working with all of those inside DHHR and those throughout our community and throughout the great state to address the many health issues we face as a state head on and as quickly as possible.”
Late last month, the governor released a report from management consultants McChrystal detailing steps the agency should take to improve services and a lapse in internal communication. The DHHR has a nearly $7.5 billion budget.
In his letter, Crouch said there are only a couple of study implementation decisions remaining, and those can be finalized by the end of the year as a part of the transition.
“Virtually all our problems are workforce problems. We have staff shortages in all bureaus and areas of DHHR, from attorneys and nurses to food service staff in our facilities,” Crouch said. “Salaries are inadequate, and applicants for health professionals and for non-healthcare positions are in short supply.”
Justice also said that Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh and Ret. Gen. Jim Hoyer, the Joint Interagency Task Force director, will be advisors to DHHR and the governor’s office through the process of selecting a permanent DHHR secretary and implementing the McChrystal DHHR reorganization report. Both Marsh and Hoyer pledged full support.
“We’re dealing with an agency that deals with the most vulnerable of our population, whether it’s our seniors or young children,” Hoyer said. “Clay and I will do our best to provide the best support and advice we can to the governor to move things in the direction that we need to.”
Justice said Marsh and Hoyer will serve as advisors throughout the rest of his time in office. Justice’s term as governor ends in January 2025.
In a statement, Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he is cautiously optimistic that a change in leadership at the Department of Health and Human Resources would be a good first step toward returning the agency to better footing.
“There’s no question about it: DHHR is not in a good place, and it’s going to take a lot of work to make things right. We believe that it’s going to take statutory changes to make some of these major overhauls, but we hope this change in leadership brings a change to its management culture,” Blair said. “We look forward to working with Interim DHHR Secretary Dr. Jeffrey Coben as we move forward with advancing significant changes to one of our state’s most critical departments. We wish Secretary Crouch well in his retirement.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated to include additional details and statements from involved and concerned parties.
It was also updated to reflect when Sec. Crouch took over DHHR.