Emily Rice Published

Officials Provide Updates On DHHR Reorganization

Closeup of unrecognizable woman hugging teenage girl with care and love. The girl holds a teddy bear.Seventyfour/Adobe Stock

After the reorganization of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human resources, there will be a Department of Human Services for programs like Child Protective Services, a Department of Health and a Department of Health Facilities for facilities like state run hospitals. Each agency will also have its own secretary to lead the agency. 

The DHHR has long been troubled but has come under fire in recent years for staffing shortages and other problems, compromising the care provided to children in the foster care system or those living in state hospitals.

The West Virginia Legislature attempted to split the agency up last year, but that bill was vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice. After a number of interim legislative committee meetings, and the resignation of then-Secretary Bill Crouch in December, the push picked up steam.

Justice signed House Bill 2006 into law Monday splitting the department into three separate bodies. The bill takes effect in May, but the new departments are set to be in place by Jan. 1, 2024.

Dr. Jeff Coben, interim secretary of the DHHR, thanked lawmakers for their work on House Bill 2006 during Justice’s regular briefing Wednesday.

“In my opinion, one of the biggest improvements of this bill, compared with what was passed last year, is that even though the bill takes effect in 90 days, the three new departments will not be formally established until January of 2024, which gives us really the opportunity to make this transition in a very thoughtful manner that doesn’t disrupt any of the services that are being provided by DHHR,” Coben said. “So we will begin the process of reorganization right away, but we’ll also take this opportunity to do it in a way that not only modifies the structure of the department but also really works to optimize the function of the current department as well as the three future departments that will be in place in January 2024.”

Coben added that he believes the new organizational structure is similar to that of surrounding states and one he is confident can be implemented in West Virginia. He also shared updates on initiatives to solve workforce shortages within the agency, reporting the number of applications to become a CPS worker in the state has tripled.

“I strongly believe that this all begins with better addressing the needs of our workforce within DHHR,” Coben said. “Over the last couple of months, we’ve taken several steps to strengthen our CPS workforce. Just yesterday, I was told that we have 24 new CPS hires that are currently in process. So strengthening that workforce is essential, and I think we’re making good improvements there.”

Coben also announced work on a hiring initiative aimed at graduating high school students. The new internship program would bring students to Charleston over the summer to learn about the DHHR and job opportunities available for them after graduation.

“We’ve received over 200 inquiries about this in just the first two days, and we’re very optimistic that this can be a direct pathway to help recruit new future employees to our department, and assist current employees by adding to the workforce,” Coben said. “So I’m actually quite optimistic about the future of the department and I’m looking forward to working with all of our current employees, the state representatives, and those who we serve throughout the state to implement the requirements of the legislation in a way that’s positive and beneficial for all of West Virginia.”