CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A state senator Wednesday urged the Department of Health and Human Resources to look at the feasibility of privatizing state-operated behavioral health hospitals, saying soaring costs could be difficult for the state to bear.
"I think we in the Legislature are headed for a train wreck going forward in trying to find money for DHHR," Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said during the department's budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.
In the proposed 2014-15 budget, behavioral health accounts for about $187.8 million of the department's $1.07 billion in state funding, an amount McCabe believes will increase dramatically as demand and cost for services increase.
Additionally, he said, many of the state facilities, including Lakin, Mitchell-Bateman and Sharpe Hospitals, are in older buildings with rapidly increasing maintenance and operating costs.
"I wonder if, as a state, we'll have the dollars to adequately deal with that," McCabe said.
He said DHHR should begin studying the possibility of privatizing those hospitals, allowing not-for-profit hospital corporations to operate them.
DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling agreed that DHHR should at least study privatization.
"We recognize ourselves the facilities are reaching the end of their useful lives," she said.
In her first budget presentation as DHHR secretary, Bowling went over the department's proposed $4.9 billion budget, $3.36 billion of which is federal funding, primarily for Medicaid health coverage.
She said 87 percent of DHHR's budget is exempt from the governor's 7.5 percent budget cuts -- which makes the cuts more difficult for the remaining 13 percent.
Bowling said the budget attempts to improve efficiencies in DHHR agencies by eliminating duplication of services.
"They're all good programs, but what is a duplicative service and what is not?" she told the committee.