The Times West Virginian

Breaking News

West Virginia

April 22, 2013

Massive overhaul of W.Va. health system urged

CHARLESTON — Few states plow as much money into health care as West Virginia, but you wouldn’t know it from the results, according to a study issued Sunday that urges major change in health services and the government department that helps provide them.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered the audit, conducted by the consulting firm Public Works, which had issued a much-discussed review of state public schools previously.

“West Virginia is in the midst of a health-care crisis,” the report concluded. “These facts are not due to a lack of effort to address West Virginia’s health-care challenges.”

The 116-page report details 78 recommendations for revamping the sprawling Department of Health and Human Resources at a potential savings of nearly $284 million over five years. Administration officials say they now want the department and the health-care community at large to weigh in on the findings.

Despite West Virginia’s massive spending — it ranks fourth among states for public health-care funding per person, and residents have the 10th-highest private health insurance premiums — it has among the worst outcomes in the nation.

Only two states have a higher share of adults who are obese or have diabetes, while just one has more adult smokers, the audit’s review of 2012 statistics found. Only five states see more residents die of heart disease. West Virginia ranks 49th for avoiding preventable accidents or ailments that land seniors in the hospital. For overall health outcomes last year, West Virginia ranked 48th among states.

The audit also noted that despite all the spending around 254,000 West Virginians — or close to one in six residents — reported not seeing a doctor in 2010 because of the cost. Private health insurance premiums, meanwhile, exceed median incomes for a quarter of the state’s workforce after rising 62 percent between 2003 and 2011.

The report outlines a range of steps for health-care providers to reduce unnecessary and even harmful services and procedures while improving preventive care, nutrition and physical fitness. But with a nearly $4 billion annual budget and more than 5,700 full-time employees, the Cabinet department’s role in this system receives most of the audit’s focus.

Finding some agencies overburdened and others underused, the audit recommends reorganizing most into two divisions each led by a deputy secretary while shutting down or combining several. The report also details how high turnover, hundreds of unfilled jobs and rising overtime costs combine to hamper the department’s efforts.

Compared to a national average of 3.3 percent, department turnover is 30 percent, the audit said. With a cumbersome, months-long process for filling jobs, more than 600 positions remain vacant at any given time. Overtime spending grew from $5.2 million in 2010 to $7.1 million last year.

“West Virginia’s health-care agencies are largely focused on day-to-day operations and emergencies, with little capacity to collaborate on new efforts or the broader vision of improving health outcomes in West Virginia,” the auditors found.

The Bureau of Medical Services, for instance, oversees the $3 billion Medicaid program but has only 62 employees — 1.4 percent of the department’s workforce to handle nearly 72 percent of its budget. The Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities accounts for 68 percent of the department’s overtime, even though it receives less than 10 percent of its funding, the audit found.

The Bureau of Children and Families also has high overtime costs, while its child protective services workers have among the worst turnover rates. But the audit also found the caseloads of these workers “well within recommended guidelines,” and suggests their $33,680 average salary is reasonable. It recommends that this agency cut 23 vacant caseworker positions along with 18 supervisor posts through attrition to save $2 million a year.

The audit also says this agency could provide some of the biggest savings, particularly by pursuing an estimated $23.4 million in available federal funds for foster care. It should also cancel its nearly $510,000-a-year contract for operating a toll-free abuse and neglect hotline, and assign it to more qualified staff, the report said.

Tomblin pursued at least one of the audit’s recommendations during the just-completed legislative session, aimed at reducing Medicaid spending on driving patients to doctor’s visits and other non-emergencies. But ambulance services, senior centers and others that now get that money helped kill that bill. But lawmakers did agree to nearly double the salary of the department’s next secretary, from $95,000 a year to $175,000.

1
Text Only
West Virginia
  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

  • Phares looks forward to retirement

    James Phares looked forward to the challenge and opportunity to help make a difference in a state education system under fire when he was hired in late 2012 as West Virginia’s schools superintendent.
    After 18 months, Phares will be stepping down on June 30 — which he said was set long ago as the day at age 61 that he’d walk with his wife into retirement.

    April 11, 2014

  • Teacher planning, abortion ban among W.Va. vetoes

    Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed about 200 bills and nixed eight this year, leaving teachers and abortion opponents unsatisfied.

    April 7, 2014

  • Spill company president ‘bears no fault’

    The president of Freedom Industries “bears no fault” for a West Virginia chemical spill that spurred a water-use ban for up to 10 days for 300,000 people, his lawyer says in a court filing.
    On Friday, Freedom President Gary Southern withdrew his application to get paid for work he already did during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. He also wanted Freedom and its insurance to cover his legal fees related to the Jan. 9 spill.

    April 5, 2014

  • Agencies to ask West Virginia residents about chemical spill

    Health agencies are making thousands of phone calls and going door-to-door to ask West Virginians how a January chemical spill affected them.
    The state Bureau for Public Health announced Thursday that volunteers will survey randomly selected households in nine counties about health concerns from the spill.

    April 5, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads