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W.Va. Legislative Interims: DHHR plan draws criticism from Committee on Government and Finance

Report opposes separating the DHHR into multiple entities

By Matt Young, WV Press Association

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. – The recently released W.Va. DHHR “Organization Assessment & Strategic Plan” remained a major point of contention amongst state legislators on Sunday, as both Meghan Bourne of the McCrystal Group and DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch provided additional testimony before the Joint Standing Committee on Government and Finance.

This marked the pair’s second appearance, after having spoken before the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCHHRA) earlier in the day. 

Prior to Bourne delivering an overview of the report, McCrystal Group President Christopher Fussell briefly addressed the committee, saying, “Our recommendation, at the highest level, is for it (DHHR) to remain as one organization, but putting a deputy-secretary structure underneath that. The entire intent here being getting to the outcome that you all rightfully were seeking of delivering faster, more effective services to the population inside of West Virginia.”

The McCrystal Group’s study of the DHHR occurred over a period of 17-weeks, and included the surveying of nearly 3,500 DHHR employees, as well as a review of more than 150 internal documents. 

“Where it becomes a challenge,” Bourne said as she began her presentation, “is that there are many different stakeholders with differing perspectives. Everyone has a role in potential change, but no one group can drive the change through by themselves.”

Bourne explained that while McCrystal is recommending against separating the DHHR into multiple entities, “there is significant change that’s required.” According to Bourne, the three most concerning areas are structure, strategic focus, and operational processes. 

“There were challenges in each of these areas that were known long before we got here,” Bourne said. “Our data simply confirms the findings.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, the line of questioning from the earlier LOCHHRA meeting resumed. Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, while referencing a letter submitted to the LOCHHRA from Disability Rights West Virginia (DRWV), probed Bourne about her decision to exclude advocacy groups from McCrystal’s research. 

“We chose to interview associations and other external organizations that work consistently with the bureaus,” Bourne replied, before explaining that DHHR officials received a briefing of the recommendations on Oct. 28 – two days prior to DRWV’s request for inclusion. “We understand that there are incredibly important advocacy groups. But with a 120-day time limit (to complete the report) we had to draw the line somewhere.”

“I stand by the decision that I made,” Bourne concluded.

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, took exception to the early DHHR briefing, asking, “You shared that briefing before legislature saw a plan or any of this documentation? Did you also brief the governor?” When Bourne responded that she had not briefed the governor, Tarr added, “Okay, I’ll have a question for Mr. Secretary (Crouch) here in a little bit.” 

“Why would that (the report) go to them (DHHR) before you brought it to the legislature?” Tarr then asked.

“Contractually, the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) are our client,” Bourne said. “So like we would with any client – we would brief them first before any external organizations are shown the report.”

Sen. Pres. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, told Bourne, “You’re saying ‘throw more money and throw more time,’ but you’re doing the same thing. This is what I’ve read into your report so far. Frankly, it looks like this is a $1 million (cost of the report) waste of our tax payer’s dollars.” 

After being sworn in, Sec. Crouch was questioned by Sen. Tarr. After pointing out that “communication” was an area of concern outlined in McCrystal’s report, Tarr asked, “If you don’t have communication now – if we’re going to give the report any merit, why should we expect the same secretary to have better communication with deputy-secretaries?”

“I disagree with your interpretation of the report,” Crouch replied. “You have to have the right deputy-secretaries. Right now, we need additional individuals in the deputy-secretary positions – and we need that to improve communication. [Meetings] need to be spread out. That needs to be done in a different way, and that’s what McCrystal is saying – we need more leadership folks at that upper level.”

Crouch then doubled-down on his support of McCrystal’s work, saying, “On the first day of this engagement, I explained very clearly that I would be stepping back and that I would accept any recommendation that they made.”

Crouch further added that McCrystal was provided with contact information for multiple groups and associations who interact with the DHHR, as well as leadership from both houses of the state’s legislature and committee chairs. 

“My understanding is that only one legislator called in and took advantage of that,” Crouch noted. “My position was that they (McCrystal) should talk to everyone.”

Blair told Crouch, “My office is unaware of ever being contacted. And if there was an attempt, you’d think there would have been a follow up in a different direction to be able to get our perspective. So how do you think that this is thorough?”

“[You’ve had this report in your possession since Oct. 17], it was not shared with us until Thursday afternoon,” Blair continued. “Veterans Day is a state holiday, and then Saturday. Here we are today, right now – so that we don’t even have time enough to review. How can that happen? What happened from Oct. 17 to Nov. 10 that made it so it was impossible to share this information with the legislature.” 

Unwavering in his response, Crouch replied, “It wasn’t shared with anyone, Senator. This was the DHHR following up on the governor’s direction to have a top-to-bottom review. This is an executive-branch contract, not a legislative-branch contract. We didn’t release it to anyone until we had time for the governor’s office to review it. It would have been inappropriate to give it out to anyone else.”

“This (DHHR) is not a secret agency,” Crouch concluded. “Whoever is out there trying to say we won’t work with folks and we’re trying to hide stuff – that’s totally erroneous. That’s false.” 

The Joint Committee on Government and Finance will reconvene during next month’s interim session scheduled for Dec. 5-6.