CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s governor has signed a bill splitting the ailing Department of Health and Human Resources into three new departments.
Gov. Jim Justice signed the bill Saturday that separates the massive agency into the departments of Health, Health Facilities and Human Services starting next January. Each department will be headed by a secretary appointed by the governor.
The agency has faced repeated allegations of abuse and mistreatment of the state’s most vulnerable residents in its care. The department, the state’s largest, runs West Virginia’s foster care system, state-run psychiatric facilities and a host of other offices and programs.
Lawmakers have said the department’s current setup is too large to manage in a crisis and that separating the department will increase transparency in the budget process. The DHHR’s $7.6 billion budget currently accounts for about 40% of annual state spending.
The three departments will still maintain an office of shared services containing more than 400 employees responsible for compiling quarterly reports on the efficiency of the new agencies.
The office of a state advocate for foster kids and families will be allowed to independently investigate the state and provide recommended changes to the Legislature. Previously, the office could not interact with the Legislature, according to lawmakers.
According to a dashboard that debuted last year, there are more than 6,100 children in the care of the state. One-third of the in-state placements are children living with relatives acting as certified foster parents.
Last year, Justice vetoed a bill that would have split the DHHR in two parts, saying he first wanted a review of its “issues, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies.”
A consulting firm hired by Justice concluded in November that the DHHR should not be split as lawmakers wanted. The McChrystal Group of Alexandria, Virginia, said the current configuration “is not an option” but that splitting the agency would “divert time, funding, and leadership’s focus away from serving West Virginians.”