By Matt Young, WV News Sharing
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability met Tuesday afternoon during the final day of the June Interim Legislative Session. On the agenda were presentations regarding the operational-organization of three departments within the West Virginia DHHR. Christina Mullins, commissioner of the Bureau for Behavioral Health, was first to present.
“The Bureau for Behavioral Health (BBH) is the federally-designated state authority for mental health and substance use disorder,” Mullins began. “It is also the lead agency for intellectual and developmental disabilities. Put simply, the BBH is the agency designated to receive and administer block grants and state-level grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”
According to Mullins, the mission of the BBH is to serve the residents of the state by “working with strategic partners to advance access and quality of statewide behavioral health.”
Mullins explained that the BBH is divided into two “primary work units;” Administration, and Programs and Policy.
“Our administrative-unit is responsible for planning and managing the bureau’s financial resources, and overseeing federally required compliance activities,” Mullins continued, before noting the four subsections of the Offices of Programs and Policy: Adult Behavioral Health; Children, Youth and Families; Substance Use Disorder; and Policy, Planning and Research.
“We’re really excited about some of the growth we’ve seen,” Mullins said. “We now have three full time equivalents for epidemiologists, which we did not have when I first came to the bureau. We’re also in the process of developing the first ever surveillance system for behavioral health.”
According to Mullins, the BBH currently has six vacancies – accounting for eight-percent of their staffing requirements.
“We’ve demonstrated a 75% decrease in vacancies since 2018,” Mullins added.
“Our current budget is $227 million,” Mullins went on to say. “This is $92 million more than it was in fiscal year 2019 – much of that attributable to the State Opioid Response Grant. But our staff is also constantly writing for new grant opportunities.”
Committee Co-chair Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, inquired as to what happens if and when services intended to be funded through grant money are not made available as expected.
“It can happen,” Mullins replied. “Sometimes when projects are planned, things change. Oftentimes it is easy to fix and we reallocate the budget – that’s the most frequent scenario.”
Next to present was Dr. Matthew Christiansen, director of the Office of Drug Control Policy.
“Our primary objective is coordination and collaboration across state agencies,” Christiansen began. “As well as creating a central repository to store drug overdose information to inform a timely response to the changing-face of the substance-use disorder crisis here in West Virginia.”
Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, was the first to question Christiansen, requesting a brief explanation of his office’s monthly meetings with the WV Department of Corrections.
“We have a meeting of our staff and some of their behavioral health staff,” Christiansen said. “We discuss everything from incorporating peer-recovery support specialists into the correctional environment – so there are people there who can identify individuals with addiction – all the way through working with their medical providers to make sure that they have the experience and the expertise in treating addiction.”
Christiansen then explained that his office funds such correctional-programs as medication-assisted treatment, as well as assisting with after-care once inmates leave the correctional facility.
“With so many people involved in the criminal justice system – because of their underlying addiction – if we’re not addressing that addiction, we’re just spinning our wheels,” Christiansen added.
“Does your office coordinate and collaborate with the Bureau of Children and Families?” Del. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, then asked. “I assume that it does, but in what ways?”
In response to Lindsay’s question, Christiansen explained “START” – which stands for Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams – a pilot-program currently functioning in five counties.
“Those look to intervene early in a family’s involvement in the CPS system, if addiction is the primary reason for that intervention,” Christiansen said.
“Do you believe that the office has met the goals that have been set to address the (opioid) crisis?” Sen. Grady asked. “How do you feel about that?”
“I wake up every single day trying to figure out new ways to nip this crisis in the bud,” Christiansen replied. “As long as there are any overdoses, I’m not going to say yes to that question. We need to continue to fight until we can change this narrative.”
The final presenter of the day was Tina Wiseman, from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), who advised the committee that through “impartial evaluation, investigating and reporting, (the OIG) seeks to ensure the integrity of DHHR programs and operations, and delivery of benefits and services to qualified state residents.”
“For the most recent year, we have 208 allocated positions, and 180 of those are filled,” Wiseman further advised. “We’ve had some success in the last month or so with hiring folks. But we are still seeing a lot of retirements, and that has impacted us greatly.”
Wiseman went on to state that the OIG’s budget for the current fiscal year is “a little over $16 million,” but that it has decreased considerably since 2019.
“We’ve taken on a lot of programs, but not increased a lot of funding,” Wiseman added. “Mainly because we’ve been able to absorb that with the staff that we have.”
In response to a final question from Sen. Grady, Wiseman said that she believes the incorporation of additional programs within the OIG represents the largest potential budget concerns moving forward.
The Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability is scheduled to reconvene next month during the July Interim Legislative Session.