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Home » Lawmakers work on DHHR reform | News, Sports, Jobs
CHARLESTON — They may take different routes to get there, but both Gov. Jim Justice and members of the West Virginia legislature are spending time during the 2023 legislative session to improve the beleaguered Department of Health and Human Resources.
The House Health and Human Resources Committee approved House Bill 2917 by ballot and without debate on Tuesday afternoon. The bill would allow retired government employees who meet the minimum required qualifications to return to work for DHHR after retirement.
The bill would allow retired Child Protection Service and Adult Protection Service employees to work for DHHR on a full-time or part-time basis without having their retirement benefits suspended and without having to re-enter the pension system as a contributing member. The retiree could work for the DHHR until the vacancy is filled by a non-retiree.
The bill is similar to an executive order signed by the judiciary in December that would allow those who have retired from the DHHR to return on a limited basis while still receiving full retirement. According to a Jan. 12 update of DHHR’s Child Welfare Dashboard, 67% of the department’s CPS staff positions are filled, while only 64% of social worker positions are filled.
On Tuesday, Justice and DHHR Interim Secretary Dr. Jeffrey Coben offered additional incentives for hiring, recruiting and retaining DHHR employees at the Bureau of Social Services during a virtual administrative update of the State Capitol Building.
“We’re trying to move, and as judiciously as we can, to make things better in DHHR.” said justice. “DHHR has been through tough times for decades. I believe the great people who work at DHHR deserve a lot of credit for all the years and great service they have provided.”
Improvements include a 20% increase in starting salaries for CPS, APS and youth services staff and raising current staff in the same positions to the new salary classification; Increase in retention bonus for current employees by 10% of base salary for employees celebrating second and fourth anniversaries, and increase in base salary by 5% for employees celebrating sixth and eighth anniversaries.
DHHR is also introducing a $50,000 hiring rate for CPS workers in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties to compete with neighboring countries of Maryland and Virginia. Raised YS salaries to match CPS salaries, hired 27 new paraprofessionals to provide additional support; Creation of 10 new policy and licensing support agencies to provide reviews of in-state and out-of-state inpatient care providers.
On the IT side, DHHR will provide field workers with tablets to quickly register families for on-site services, as well as install WiFi in all DHHR country offices. According to DHHR, all of these changes will cost $10 million to implement over the next 12 months, coming from the current $7.5 billion budget.
Coben, who was appointed by the Judiciary late last year, has already initiated some changes, including hiring additional CPS staff for the eastern Panhandle, introducing hiring bonuses for counties that are short of CPS staff and returning from DHHR retired employees to work a limited base to help fill vacancies and lift a hiring freeze imposed by Bill Crouch, former DHHR secretary.
“We believe this will be a critical first step in our continued efforts to protect and support West Virginia’s most vulnerable children, youth and adults.” said Koben. “We now have many opportunities and competitive opportunities for staff improvement in our protection service positions… As you can see, our team is committed to making a difference and is focused on improvements to the workforce, particularly in relation to child protection services and adult protection services. “
On the Senate side, lawmakers are beginning to change how the DHHR budget works in light of a pending bill that would split it into three separate departments.
A subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday afternoon heard a report from Chris Dewitte, the committee’s budget analyst, on restructuring DHHR’s budget after one of two bills splitting DHHR passed the Legislature.
Senate Bill 126, which splits DHHR into the Department of Human Services, Department of Health and Department of Health Facilities effective December 1 of this year, passed the Senate on January 11 by a 32-1 vote on the first day of the legislative session 2023. The House Health Committee last week recommended passage of its version of SB 126, House Bill 2006. This bill sits in the House Finance Committee.
The task of the subcommittee is to make changes to the budget structure of the DHHR to reflect the changes made by the creation of the three new departments and the relocation of offices within these new departments. The subcommittee will also work to make the budget more transparent to the three departments and easier to understand for lawmakers and the public.
The legislature last year passed a bill to split the DHHR into two departments, but the judiciary vetoed that bill, opting instead to require a third-party investigation of the department. DHHR retained McChrystal Group, a Virginia-based consulting firm, to conduct a $1 million organizational assessment and strategic plan for DHHR. That report also recommended that DHHR not be split, but Justice said he was willing to consider splitting.
“There is a movement to split up the DHHR” said justice. “We have a McChrystal report that says that’s probably not a good idea. But I really believe that the primary movement, be it on the Senate side or the House side, is to try to make things better. I’ll be as open-minded as I can and I’ll try to do anything and everything the Senate and House of Representatives or anything else is doing to make things better.”
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