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W.Va. Legislative Interims: Report finds ‘Better delivery of service to West Virginians’ key for DHHR

By Matt Young, WV Press Association

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. – With the recent release of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources report – “Organization Assessment & Strategic Plan” – the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCHHRA) heard testimony Sunday from both Meghan Bourne of the Virginia-based McChrystal Group – the organization tasked with the report’s creation – as well as DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch.   

The State Legislature met on Sunday to kick off the first interim session since last week’s midterm elections. The November session, which is scheduled to conclude on Tuesday, is being held at Cacapon State Park in Berkeley Springs. 

At committee meeting, Bourne spent approximately 20-minutes providing a brief overview of the report, saying, “If we think about it, the state has a really incredible opportunity to drive change. There is one thing that’s consistent: everyone agrees that we want better delivery of service to West Virginians.”

The primary recommendation of the report is that the DHHR should remain a singular entity with several under-secretaries being added to the leadership team. To complete their assessment, the McCrystal Group attempted to survey 5,000 DHHR employees, and, “achieved a 71 percent response rate.”

“That’s incredibly important,” Bourne told the Commission. “That allows us to say that the data is statistically relevant.”

According to Bourne, McCrystal’s survey revealed that communication-dissemination between management and subordinates is perhaps the largest challenge which the DHHR is currently facing. In McCrystal’s estimation, the addition of “two or three” more deputy-secretaries is the best approach to addressing these concerns. 

“There are  impacts of not having that team (additional deputy-secretaries),” Bourne added. “It leads to silent communication, and it’s a challenge for leaders at the highest levels to get information from the teams on the front lines.” 

Bourne’s presentation was followed by a rather aggressive line of questioning from Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, who stated, “As a person who is a hospital employee, who works in an ER which is crisis-centric all the time, I read your strategic plan. To be quite honest, in one minute I know my mission is to improve healthcare.”

“I know what my roles are: I need to collaborate with others, I need to be respectful, I need to be accountable to my actions,” Summers continued. “That’s the jist of your whole thing. But by God, as a worker, I need to know how I do these things.”

Summers then referenced a section of the report which states, “Insufficient technology resources impede the processing of internal work and external service delivery” as being her main areas of concern, saying, “You didn’t even look at (those areas).”

“We spent all this time developing a strategic plan that I could have put together in five minutes,” Summers added. “So how do you get into that deeper part that we’re worried about, instead of just telling us that we need to add two more layers of management? We’ve tried all those things in the past.”

Bourne replied, “I agree, you could write a strategy on a piece of paper in a few days. The challenge is assessing leadership-alignment around that strategy. Our plan recommended what the environment needs.”

As the questioning continued, Summers again expressed her dissatisfaction with the report – this time targeting the structural recommendations and their similarities to other states, saying, “I’m sorry, but we paid you $1 million to help us set up a better structure. Just because other states do it, that doesn’t mean it’s right. That’s why we paid you to analyze this for us and tell us what a good structure would be.”

Next to provide testimony was DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch, who told the committee, “What McCrystal did was a little different – I was hands-off on that (McCrystal’s report). I did not want to be seen as influencing that. I told them that whatever their decision was, I would support that.”

“They looked at this the same way I did when I was coming into this job,” Crouch explained. “How can we improve healthcare in West Virginia? We’re forty-ninth or fiftieth in almost every category, and have been since I was a child. That’s why they looked at deputy-secretaries. They really looked at ‘how do we improve those numbers?’”

“I’ll be honest,” Crouch added. “I want deputy-secretaries in there – I want help.”

Crouch concluded by saying, “The communication piece, we need a few more people. That’s what they’re talking about with regard to the leadership-team. We need a few more people at the top. I’m not able to look forward and plan, and really look at what needs to be done within the state without some help.”

Both Bourne and Crouch were also scheduled to provide testimony before the Joint Committee on Government and Finance on Sunday. LOCHHRA will meet one final time in 2022 during the Dec. interim session. 

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