By Stephen Smoot
One of the main goals of both the West Virginia State Legislature and Governor Jim Justice lay in splitting up the massive $7.5 billion dollar West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources into three new agencies.
As of Jan. 1, WV DHHR split into the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, and the Department of Health Facilities. An Office of Shared Administration will provide a pool of administrative staff for the new departments.
The Department of Health Facilities, headed by Secretary Michael Caruso, oversees state operated health care facilities. The Department of Health, led by Secretary Dr. Sherri Young, includes offices, centers, and commissions involved in health and medicine.
Social services, child support, family assistance, and related programs will operate under the Department of Human Services, headed up by Secretary Dr. Cynthia Persily.
The legislation took more than a year to craft and faced hurdles. Justice vetoed a 2022 bill that would have split the agency into two, later saying “it was a very quickly put together thing that could have been a real mistake.” He signed the bill passed in 2023 that created three.
Discussion, debate, and action on separation took place in the context of increasing criticism leveled at WV DHHR, including the issue of deleted official emails sought for a federal class action lawsuit regarding foster care.
According to Jessica Holstein, West Virginia Department of Health and Department of Health facilities director of communications, “the goal of the separation was to distribute the authority and responsibility for those programs among three co-equal cabinet-level secretaries to maximize efficiencies resulting in optimal service delivery for state residents.”
Dividing the massive agency into three is also expected to “enable more effective resource allocation” with “resources directed to the most critical priorities and programs.”
Holstein emphasized that “no service interruption will be felt by any resident who receives DHHR services as a result of the reorganization.” Also, the state will maintain the dhhr.wv.org website for the convenience of those seeking information.
Additionally, the reorganization did not cut services or positions. Holstein said, “It remains important to continue to fill vacant positions.”
Justice remarked last May that “we have made incredible progress in DHHR, and the achievements have been remarkable because we are pulling the rope together.”
He added that “we want to continue making things better as we transition to this new organizational structure.”