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Several moves to bolster the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources workforce came from the governor’s office Wednesday morning.
In his Wednesday coronavirus briefing, Gov. Jim Justice re-introduced his new DHHR leadership team after the retirement announcement Monday from Sec. Bill Crouch.
“That is Dr. Jeff Coben, the associate vice president for Health Affairs and dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health, as our interim secretary,” Justice said. “Along with Dr. Clay Marsh and Ret. Gen Jim Hoyer as DHHR advisors, we will absolutely get into this and have hit the ground running.”
Justice said over the past 48 hours, his leadership team, along with some newly appointed DHHR agency directors, had identified some ‘bottlenecks’ in hiring practices and put several new workforce recruitment initiatives into action.
Justice said four Child Protective Services positions were offered in the Eastern Panhandle. Coben said two of those positions have already been accepted. Justice explained that some Eastern Panhandle CPS hiring bonuses were increased from $2,500 to $5,000.
The governor admitted the moves were made, in part, in a response to a publicly shared letter he received from Sen. Charlie Trump, R-Morgan, identifying a dearth of crisis level child welfare shortcomings specific to the Eastern Panhandle.
“These are addressing the needs that Sen. Trump brought up,” Justice said. “Today we have authorized the $2,500 CPS hiring bonus for CPS workers in Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties be moved to $5,000.”
Justice also issued an executive order to entice DHHR retirees to return to work on a limited basis without losing any of their retirement income.
In the briefing, new DHHR Interim Secretary Dr. Jeff Coben said the department hiring freeze has been lifted and employee recruiting and retention efforts will immediately increase.
“We’re working with the Division of Personnel to clear out some lists of potential applicants who may want to work at DHHR,” Coben said. “We will also immediately begin to further recruit for our workforce needs by reaching out to our high school programs, the Mountaineer Challenge Academy, our vo-tech programs, as well as health sciences students and others throughout the university along with the Jobs and Hope program.”
Coben said he was working on plans to acquire additional technology allowing DHHR people to work smarter and more efficiently to manage cases that are in the system, both now and in the future.
In the briefing, Marsh said department priorities will focus on the health and well being of all West Virginians, especially the most vulnerable.
“That’s our children and our elders, looking at making sure that we have the right team, the right workforce, to be able to bring the care that these vulnerable West Virginians need,” Marsh said. “Then, starting to extend the focus to the mental health crisis that is currently not only our state, but our country. Then, the issues with substance use disorder. West Virginia leads the country in substance use related deaths and addiction related deaths.”
In the briefing, Hoyer said he would extend efforts to reach the best DHHR client outcomes.
“The governor tasked us to work with all the different constituency groups,“ Hoyer said. “We’ll leverage the partnerships we built with the Joint Interagency Task Force to get to those groups and work with everybody to understand the challenges as we work through this.”
Justice was asked how he might find legislative common ground after Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and other lawmakers vowed to renew efforts to separate DHHR into two departments and not wait on seeing any fruits of the McChrystal study implementation. He said there were things that Crouch could have done a lot better, but said he also did a lot of good. He said the staff at DHHR, including Crouch, did not need to be “kicked around.”
“It was not support, it was just a constant undermining,” Justice said. ”I am absolutely for things being better but in a smart way and on a smart pathway and not just jumping on a soapbox.”