|The Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCHHRA) heard a variety of updates Tuesday on death records, vital statistics, and the reorganization of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR).
Death records, vital statistics addressed
Matthew Wickert, State Registrar for the Vital Records Branch of DHHR, discussed the implementation of the Electronic Vital Registration System, which is known as “DAVE.” It had a successful rollout in its first year, with 76% of all death records registered electronically. It has reached 100% in 2023, with 80% being reported within 10 days of death.
Prior to 2022, West Virginia was a fully paper death certificate state, and families waited up to 40 days for a death certificate. They now have a death certificate to begin to settle affairs within 11 days from the date of death, beating the national average.
Incorrect Social Security numbers have been problematic on paper death certificates. The system now checks the numbers, and it is a big improvement, Mr. Wickert said. It is also more accurate on stating time of death.
“We will never stop improving it,” said Mr. Wickert about DAVE. The agency also will enter old paper death certificates.
Now that the “death system” is implemented, the agency is working on a similar model for births.
Funeral directors cite problems with Medical Examiner
Robert Kimes, Executive Director of the West Virginia Funeral Directors and Crematory Operators Association, discussed the two main concerns with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME).
The main problem is the condition of remains of bodies as they come from the OCME.
“We need blood vessels to be accessible for the embalming situation,” Mr. Kimes said.
The second problem is the delay on death certificates. Mr. Kimes noted arrival of a death certificate can take up to eight months from the OCME, and insurance companies will not accept them if the certificates say the cause of death is “pending.”
Reorganization of DHHR updated
Dr. Cynthia Persily, incoming Secretary for DHHR, presented and expanded upon the Seven Core Action Areas for Child Welfare Transformation:
· Kinship Care
· Foster Care
· Justice System
She said prevention is the first step in curtailing the child welfare crisis, and the agency needs to prevent further impact on the children if they become involved with the system.
“We are really focusing our efforts on prevention,” Dr. Persily said.
Another priority is helping children with serious emotional disorders access services. Dr. Persily said a family often must go into great personal debt or give a child to the state to get Medicaid coverage for the children. The agency is working to prevent that outcome.
In West Virginia, 6,186 children are in state custody. Of those, 58% in state are in kinship care. Dr. Persily said those children have improved in their academic outcomes and general well-being.
“Prevention efforts take a while to show up,” Dr. Persily said. She credited the positive outcomes to the dedicated workforce, noting that the Child Protective Services vacancy rate is down to 81 positions statewide.
In discussing the next steps, Dr. Persily said she’d like to have a child welfare transformation summit in December, coinciding with the interim session, to bring in national partners and have an afternoon “think tank.”
Contract staffing described as ‘big spend’
Michael Caruso, incoming Secretary for the Department of Health Facilities, told the Committee that 55 beds in Welch will transition to West Virginia University, and there will be 511 long-term care facility beds in the state.
Updating other issues, Mr. Caruso said the $152 million approved for facilities is still in the assessment phase, and full-blown Electronic Health Records will be about a two-year process for implementation.
He concluded with the big issue, contract staffing costs. He described it as a “big spend.” All contracts are now rebid, and the expenses will drop. Another key item is a statewide assessment of the beds needed.
Dr. Sherri Young, Interim Secretary of DHHR and incoming Secretary for the Department of Health, wrapped up the meeting. Chairman Mike Maroney asked her to review some of the requests legislators made at the previous meeting but also noted the Committee was limited on time for her report.
Her update included the request of a building for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
“We need the space to get autopsies done,” Dr. Young said.
In other updates, the Office of Human Resource Management has helped reduce vacancy rates.
The Human Rights Commission’s current office building is changing use, and the Commission is looking for a facility.
Delegate Amy Summers of Taylor County asked about the purchasing process report that states it takes 119 days to buy items and 11 different approvals. Dr. Young said the agency is working to get that down to 69 days and within the current purchasing rules.
Delegate Summers also requested that Dr. Young report back at the next meeting on the amount DHHR is spending on attorneys and legal fees.
Before the meeting adjourned, Delegate Summers asked each member to review draft legislation that would allow LOCHHRA to go into executive session for certain issues pending with DHHR, some of which could involve constituents.