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WV Senate’s Health and Human Resources Committee looks at administrative medical practices, including health department funding

By Matthew Young, W.Va. News Service

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – With West Virginia’s legislative crossover day now having passed, the Senate’s Health and Human Resources Committee met on Thursday for the third time in eight days. On the meeting’s agenda were three bills, all relating to administrative medical practices. 

The first bill discussed, HB 4257, introduced by Del. Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, would require health care facilities to allow visitation immediately following a medical procedure. In lieu of  a reading, Committee General Counsel Cindy Dellinger provided a brief overview of both the bill and proposed amendment.

“The bill clarifies that visitation is permitted once the patient is stable following a surgical procedure,” Dellinger explained. “(the amendment) would add language to the bill that would provide that patients should have adequate and lawful access to clergy so that patients can practice their religion by receiving clergy visitation at any reasonable time, as long as the visit does not disrupt clinical care.”

The amendment also redefines members of the clergy as not being considered “visitors.” Therefore, clergy would no longer count towards the total number of visitors allowed at a given time. The bill as amended was adopted by the committee, with Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, saying, “I really appreciate this amendment. I totally support it.”

Next on the agenda was the committee’s substitution for HB 4344. Introduced by Del. Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, the bill seeks, among other things, to create new definitions of, and delete “outdated language” pertaining to foster care, and implement the requirement of a “study of centralized intake” of children admitted into the foster care program. Dellinger again provided an overview.

“The bill requires child-placing agencies to provide services to kinship families, requires the bureau to update the new PATH system to include a new web-based portal matching database and provide a data dashboard.”

If passed, the proposed bill would also increase the salaries of Bureau of Social Services Direct Service employees, require “circuit courts to set aside one-day each month to enable multi-disciplinary teams to meet,” and mandate that each county’s Sheriff’s Office serve notice regarding upcoming hearings.

The provisions of the bill would further require the following five metrics be reported monthly to the “data dashboard”:

  • System-level data performance indicators.
  • Intake-hotline performance indicators.
  • Field investigation performance measures.
  • Open-case performance measures.
  • Out-of-home to placement performance measures. 

Another change made through the committee’s substitution, according to Dellinger, is that “any report of child abuse or neglect reported by a physician or mandatory reporter shall be automatically considered as accepted by the centralized-intake and referred for investigation.”

The fiscal note attached to the bill confirms that the DHHR estimates first-year financial impact on the state to be $11 million. This is primarily due to the increased employee salaries. Deliberation of the bill  then continued, with testimony being provided by Bureau of Social Services Commissioner Jeffrey Pack.

“There’s a lot of good in this bill,” Pack told the committee. “It’s not perfect, but I don’t recall ever seeing a bill come through that was. My main concern is addressing our worker-shortage.” After discussing investments made in other states, Pack went on to say, “That’s what we’re going to have to do, we have to arrive at the point where we have a stable workforce who can actually go out and investigate these things, and provide the services necessary to these kids.”

Amy Rickman, executive director of Necco, a foster-care and behavioral health organization, then addressed the committee. 

“I think the bill is leading in the right direction,” Rickman told the committee. “I think we’ll continue to tweak the child welfare system. We have a long way to go to serve our children and families appropriately.”

After more than an hour of discussion and three proposed  amendments, including one from Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, which calls for the creation of a discretionary fund to be used to supplement the salaries of Direct Service employees, the bill was adopted as amended. The committee’s substitution for HB 4344 will now be referred to the Senate’s Committee on Finance. 

HB 4113, also introduced by Sen. Rohrbach, was the last piece of business before the committee, with Dellinger providing a lengthy explanation.

“The purpose of this bill is to modernize the law related to local health departments,” Dellinger began. “This bill was discussed at least two times during interim committees.”

Dellinger went on to advise the committee that the bill consists of numerous examples of administrative-restructuring within “public health services,” as well as serving to “delete outdated language.”

“There’s a new funding formula that’s going to come about,” Dellinger said. “There’s going to be a performance-based funding formula. It will be established by legislative-rule, by which new health departments will be funded.”

State Health Officer Ayne Amjad then provided testimony before the committee, stating, “Funding is something that we look at and should be planning all the time – not just on a yearly-basis. And the local health departments need some type of funding, just like a lot of the services in the state do. The Bureau for Public Health is also lacking in staff, just like the health departments are. Even though we want to do performance-based standards, if you don’t have enough staff, you can’t expect someone to perform at an effective level.”

HB 4113 was adopted after minimal discussion, and will now be referred to the full Senate with the committee’s recommendation that it be passed. 

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