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Acting secretary opposes subdividing DHHR

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although his department is the largest in state government, with nearly 6,000 employees and an annual budget of $4.28 billion, the acting secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources said he opposes breaking it up into smaller divisions.

Rocco Fucillo told members of the Senate Finance Committee the Caperton administration had the right idea when it combined various public welfare and health agencies into the DHHR.

"I think the purpose was right, and is still right," he said. "The programs are so intertwined."

While the DHHR is so large it can be unwieldy in providing services, Fucillo said he believes it would be worse to break it into two or more divisions.

"The thing I need is a fully staffed DHHR," he said. "A fully staffed DHHR could do the job."

Fucillo said state government in general, and his department in particular, has problems with high staff turnover, with jobs that offer low pay and little chance for advancement.

"Unless you go to another department or agency, there is no career path to get a raise," he told the committee. "We have to come up with ways to motivate folks, to give them incentive."

Fucillo said he would like to be able to offer merit raises or performance-based pay.

Also Tuesday, Fucillo said promoting healthy lifestyles is a key to economic development in the state.

"Unfortunately, we often rank near the top for the wrong reasons," he said, citing high rates of diabetes, obesity, smoking and high blood pressure among the state's residents.

"We're the sickest state, or one of the sickest states, and we're the second-oldest state," he said. "We're going to lose that equation."

Fucillo noted that 35 percent of babies born in the state are born drug-addicted because their mothers are using drugs. Not only is that senseless and horrible, he said, but each infant is likely to be an economic liability to the state for life.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, a physician, agreed that the economic costs of unhealthy lifestyles are daunting, citing medical costs related to tobacco use, obesity and substance abuse.

"Those big three are obviously chewing up tremendous amounts of money," Stollings said.

Senators Tuesday did raise questions about any controversies embroiling DHHR, including Fucillo's extended suspension without explanation of three top DHHR officials, and the subsequent firing of two of the three; an ongoing legal battle over the department's failure to comply with a 2009 court order mandating pay raises for employees at the state's two psychiatric hospitals; and multiple miscues with purchasing and bidding contracts, including multiple rebids for a $350 million supercomputer to handle Medicaid billing and claims.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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