Department of Health, Human Resources chief seeks another audit
09/24/2013 - The Charleston Daily Mail. By Zack Harold.
CHARLESTON - The new head of the state Department of Health and Human Resources says a recent $380,000 audit of her agency was not comprehensive enough.
DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling, who started at the agency in July, said the agency is working on its own top-to-bottom review to identify and fix issues like high employee turnover, a lack of collaboration among its various bureaus and other issues.
But speaking to lawmakers at an interim committee meeting on Monday, Bowling provided few details on how those goals might be accomplished.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last year hired the Pennsylvania-based firm Public Works to conduct an audit of DHHR.
The $380,000 audit, presented to the Governor's Office in February, found millions of dollars in waste at the agency, along with a 30 percent turnover rate among employees, $7.1 million in overtime pay, $6.1 million in travel costs and other inefficiencies.
The report outlined 78 recommendations for DHHR, including an overhaul of its cumbersome hiring practices, reigning in travel costs and developing a coordinated way to seek and maintain grant funding.
"We don't think the report is enough. We need to do a further analysis ourselves," Bowling said on Monday. "Public Works gave us the springboard to get started on this."
She said the department should seek to remove roadblocks in the hiring system, "put the people of West Virginia first," account for every dollar in the budget and create a system to ensure the agency meets its customers' needs.
DHHR is still figuring out how those things might be accomplished. Bowling offered to return to the interim committee in December to present a more detailed plan.
She said the department continues to meet with Public Works to review the group's findings and get information on how other states have made similar reforms.
Some lawmakers, including House Health Committee Chairman Don Perdue, have suggested DHHR be broken down into smaller agencies.
Public Works did not support that idea, and Bowling said she agrees with that recommendation.
She said she would like to see DHHR become more integrated, with different areas of the agency working closer together.
"We don't want to add layers of bureaucracy," she said. "The size of our organization is not a problem. What has been probably the challenge is maybe the way we've managed it."
She said the department lacks "structural clarity" and would be reorganized, although she could not provide specific details.
The DHHR has moved forward with some of Public Works recommendations. Bowling said the agency now has grant management specialists, whose sole purpose is to find, apply for and manage grant monies.
Speaking after the meeting, Bowling said most of the changes to DHHR would focus on reducing turnover and filling vacancies.
The agency has set up "crisis intervention teams" that move in when an office experiences a critical lack of employees. Bowling said the department is trying to develop an expedited process to filling positions, like hiring employees on a temporary or contract basis.
DHHR also is working with Workforce West Virginia, a state-run job placement program, to advertise and fill vacancies.
Bowling said it would not always be easy to fill vacant jobs, however, because there is a statewide shortage of nurses and other health professionals.
Near the end of the meeting, Perdue again brought up the idea of breaking up DHHR, saying it's easy to tell which hens have too many chicks: some will inevitably be left out in the cold.
Perdue, D-Wayne, said West Virginia's health statistics are a looming train wreck, and they are not improving.
"We can't spend two or three more years doing the same thing and getting the same results," he said.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said many of the changes needed at DHHR likely would not require legislative action.
He said he has spoken to the Governor's Office and fellow legislators, and believes many of Public Works' recommendations for the department could be done with internal policy changes.