by Kate Shunney
A series of reports, investigations, appointments and resignations continue to reshape the West Virginia Division of Health & Human Resources (DHHR) this week as key leadership in the state’s social services and public health agency keep changing.
On Monday, Gov. Jim Justice announced that DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch had resigned his post, effective at the end of this year, and the governor had appointed Dr. Jeff Coben as interim secretary.
Justice also announced that Dr. Clay Marsh of WVU and Retired Major General Jim Hoyer – the governor’s two key leaders during the COVID pandemic – are advisors to the governor and to DHHR on the leadership transition.
That transition follows an announcement last week that there would be a federal civil rights investigation into how the DHHR has handled services for, and placement of, clients with intellectual and development disabilities.
Earlier this month, members of the West Virginia Legislature took their first look at a leadership study of the DHHR commissioned by Governor Justice. The results of that study indicated poor communication among different parts of the state agency, and gaps in the leadership structure.
Gov. Justice last week also announced a hiring freeze at the DHHR while its leadership ranks were filled.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are demanding answers about delays in services in West Virginia residents, including families and children at risk, and expenditures on services that aren’t improving the health of state residents.
Eastern Panhandle ‘crisis
On Thursday, December 8, West Virginia State Senator Charles Trump IV (R-Morgan) sent a letter to Secretary Crouch at the DHHR, demanding specific information about how the agency would handle case backlogs and unserved families in the Eastern Panhandle due to a “crisis” in Child Protective Services (CPS) and DHHR Youth Service.
“The situation here in our eastern panhandle is dire. We have fewer workers allocated to this region than we need, and the allocation is unfair compared to other regions in the state, given the population of these three counties, which now exceeds 200,000 people,” Sen. Trump wrote. “This insufficient allocation of workers is only a part of the problem because so many of the positions that have been allocated are vacant and unfilled.”
No case worker here
Sen. Trump went on to outline problems specific to Morgan County, where there is no child welfare worker or CPS worker. One CPS case worker who handles cases in this county works out of Martinsburg. Another is in in Grant County. There is a DHHR office in Morgan County.
Trump told Crouch that many child welfare cases in Morgan County have been open for more than a year, some without any placement of a child or resolution in court.
He recounted that so far in 2022, court cases had been opened involving 16 families and 33 children.
“An unreasonably high number of these cases in Morgan County are cases that had to be commenced by law enforcement officers or school officials because the DHHR did not open a case when children were in imminent danger,” wrote Trump.
In 2021, court cases were opened involving 28 families and a total of 63 children. Five of those cases are still open.
“None of this addresses the calls and referrals made from Morgan Count to which no one from the DHHR has responded, made a contact or investigated at all,” wrote Trump.
He shared similar statistics for Berkeley County, which has 234 juvenile abuse and neglect cases that are open and being handled by one ongoing worker.
One youth social worker is handling 42 juvenile delinquency and status offense cases, said Trump. He noted that a lack of timely action on cases has meant children were placed in detention or in residential treatment instead of getting services in their own community.
In Jefferson County, there are 32 families with court cases open in 2022, involving 80 children. Trump notes those are just the cases that have made it to court, not all of the calls and referrals that have been left without response or investigation.
“DHHR has been aware of these problems for some time. Surely DHHR has been actively working on plans to address the problems,” wrote Trump. He requested a written response to his request for information by this Friday, December 16.
“I am not interested in hearing vague assurances that DHHR is ‘working on it.’ I want to see what the plans are that DHHR has, plans that can be executed to solve the problems, along with a timeline for implementation,” Sen. Trump wrote.