By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCHHRA), on Monday, heard a presentation from Jeff Coben, interim secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), regarding the agency’s reorganization efforts. The reorganization of the DHHR was prompted by the legislature’s passage of HB 2006, which requires the agency to be split into three distinct departments.
“Following the legislative session, in the last week of March, I convened a series of 21 town hall meetings with several thousand employees of DHHR to understand their concerns and questions about the transition,” Coben began. “And also to provide them with as much information as I could about the plans for the department.”
Coben said that during those town hall meetings, the “three department structure” was explained to all employees, noting that DHHR will remain as a “single organizational unit” until Jan. 2024.
“As you can imagine (many employee concerns) were around job security, as well as how we continue to enhance the function of the department as we move through this transition process,” Coben said. “I believe those sessions went quite well in both addressing the concerns and anxieties that many of our employees expressed, but also giving me an opportunity to hear what those concerns were so that I can convey those concerns and represent our employees to the best of my ability.”
Coben added that he has several “initial” meetings scheduled with Gov. Jim Justice’s team next week, which he anticipates will be “in depth.”
At the conclusion of Coben’s presentation, Sen. Jack David Woodrum, R-Summers, asked, “Does DHHR’s implementation plan ensure that existing funds will be reallocated for any new positions needed in the reorganization?”
Coben advised the committee that “the financial component of this (DHHR reorganization plan) is something that we will be working in depth with the governor’s office.”
“I will say that this week all of our division leads and bureau leads are submitting their requests for their 2024 budget,” Coben added. “We are consolidating all of that information and looking at what those budgets requests look like compared to 2023 and making determinations as to how we can move forward in the most cost-neutral manner.”
Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, was next to question Coben.
“What obstacles do you see on implementing this (reorganization) that are out there?” Blair asked. “Enlighten us on that – I know that you’re seeing some. Tell us what the obstacles are on being able to implement the global legislature on the reformation of the DHHR. Whether its federal, or things that we have stautorially- whatever it takes to be able to get this accurate. We need that feedback.”
Coben replied: “I think the issue of how we navigate the federal government in terms of our federal matching funds is going to be very important.”
“I think the Office of Shared Administration that’s outlined in the bill (HB 2006) will be very important for us to navigate that in such a way that we don’t lose any federal matching funds,” Coben continued. “I think that would be something that I’d like to have a deeper conversation about. There are a number of things that we’ll need to navigate as we go through these next nine months – some things that we don’t typically think about.”
Coben referenced signage, letterheads and website designs as being several points of unanticipated financial concern.
“From a policy perspective, I’ll get back to you,” Coben added, “But quite frankly at this point I don’t foresee substantial obstacles.”
Coben advised the committee that he expects to have more information to share after next week’s meetings with the governor’s team. The LOCHHRA will again hear from Coben during next month’s Interim Session, scheduled for May 7 through 9.
RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of DHHR’s reorganization as additional information is made available.