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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is a multi-billion dollar agency with myriad departments under its umbrella. There are many who want to see it reorganized.
DHHR is now working to implement recommendations from the independent McChrystal group in an effort to improve internal communications and client outcomes.
Government Reporter Randy Yohe talked with DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch on the progress so far.
Randy: I see where you’ve named Jessica Hudson as the DHHR Chief Operating Officer. She will oversee about everything from what I read, and looks like a second in command. You say her position will establish a direct line of oversight and communication in helping eliminate some of the silos that have developed over the years. Mr. Secretary, in layman’s terms, explain what the study meant by the silos and silo challenges and how Ms. Hudson’s position may help improve outcomes.
Crouch: I have meetings with the commissioners every week, I have a meeting with each of the bureaus every other week with the deputies and attorneys and others. At that level, everything works well. But what they’re referring to is down below that. Everything below that level of communication with the secretary’s office, meaning our HR people, our finance people, and that’s not great. That’s what we’re trying to fix.
Several secretaries ago, I’m not going to mention the secretary’s name who I was told did this, but that person allowed all of the bureaus to have their own HR person, their own finance person and their own support services inside the bureaus that led to these towers of folks who didn’t communicate among the towers. So what we’re doing is breaking those silos down that were built. We’re going to have those folks reporting directly to the people that are really ultimately responsible in the DHHR secretary’s office for getting bills paid for getting people hired, etc.
Randy: You’ve said improving child welfare outcomes as a DHHR top priority. How do you believe study implementations, including a designated child welfare leader, will help reach those desired outcomes?
Crouch: By coordinating those services underneath the deputy secretary and through the coordination with the other deputy secretaries. Deputy Secretary Christina Mullins is absolutely phenomenal when it comes to mental health services. In focusing on where the need is, we’ve never really had that focus of mental health services with children until Christina went into that role. Now she can work with Kammie Chapman, who is the Deputy Secretary for Children and Adult Services. They’re really focused on dealing with this child welfare problem directly.
Randy: Explain a little more on how the integration teams focused on communications will actually help legislators understand DHHR progress and enhance the legislative ability to make better informed decisions on DHHR policy and funding.
Crouch: It’s the issue of the liaisons and how we do that. We’re still working through the best way to do that and would like to have some conversations with folks in the legislature that I’m not sure we’re going to have. If it’s going to work I want their input. I certainly respect that body. They’re one of the branches of government that’s critical to improving health care for their citizens and health care for our children, so I’m very open to that. It’s more confrontational right now, more like “gotcha” on DHHR. With everything we do, there’s criticism instead of looking at the positives and what we’re doing.
Randy: House Speaker Roger Hanshaw says he may make leadership changes that focus on DHHR. And he says there have been talks with you and DHHR regarding legislation, helping implement the McChrystal study recommendation and other DHHR needs. So there’s already activity in motion?
Crouch: I am very impressed with the Speaker. He’s very deliberate in terms of how he looks at issues. And I’m very open to talking about changes that improve health care and estate. And so I’m very hopeful we can do that.
Randy: The studies seem to show a need for a marked improvement in upper level managers listening to frontline DHHR workers needs opinions and concerns for proper policy implementation. Why was this a problem? And what are your expectations for improvement?
Crouch: We have a lot of folks out in the field, we have people throughout the state that may even feel a little disconnected from DHHR. I’ve asked our folks, this was probably six months ago, that everyone that supervises people are now required to go through a management training course. We have to have better managers and folks who really care about the people that work under them, and make sure the message, in terms of our approach, gets down to them.
You have to have a team of people who work together and need to feel like they’re part of that team, and they need to know they’re appreciated and what they do is important. We are requiring training for those folks who are facing the public or have responsibilities to deal with the public or deal with others. If they man the front desk at our local offices, then they have to take customer training service. So it’s kind of the same thing, we want people who interface with the DHHR to feel comfortable and to get the service that they need.
Randy: Your three priorities are child welfare, substance use disorder and workforce. Can you give me some specific examples of how you see study implementation directly benefiting the clients that DHHR serves, and the frontline workers who have served those clients?
Crouch: We haven’t talked about SUD [substance use disorder] much. We’re having some success with SUD, but this is still a huge problem in West Virginia. The dates are already set to meet with Homeland Security so we can work with them in terms of coordinating issues and communities where there are increases in drug use, to try to focus on reducing those drugs coming in. Those individuals who were found and arrested, we need to get the appropriate ones’ treatment, and those who are selling and dealing, they’re going to jail. But those individual users out there, we need to get them into treatment and try to get them back into society.
We’re going to fix these problems. We’re going to have a real impact in the next year or two years in terms of the child welfare issue. The SUD problem is really the toughest one. We’re making progress on child welfare. No one likes to talk about that. They’d like to point out the problems but we’ve got to do better and we’re going to do better.