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May 25, 2023
CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and officials with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced Wednesday the next steps toward splitting the massive agency into three new departments, including the appointment of three new cabinet secretaries, including a Wheeling resident to oversee the Department of Health Facilities.
Justice appointed Dr. Sherri Young to lead the Department of Health, Dr. Cynthia Persily to head the Department of Human Services and Michael Caruso to head the Department of Health Facilities.
“I think we are on a pathway to making things significantly better at DHHR,” Justice said during his virtual administration briefing from his office in the Capitol.
“We want to just continue to make it better. That’s what we do.”
Caruso is a principal with Spectrum Health Partners LLC in Wheeling. He previously worked at the managing director of the Healthcare Turnaround and Restructuring Group, as president/CEO of Ohio Valley Health Services and Education Corp., as executive director of United Physicians Care Inc., and vice president of Wheeling Hospital.
“I’m grateful and honored to join the team as well,” Caruso said. “I am delighted to join the DHHR program. It’s a great benefit for the state and I’m looking forward to joining the team as well and working with you.”
The Department of Health Facilities would oversee all DHHR-owned hospitals, including Hopemont Hospital, Jackie Withrow Hospital, John Manchin Sr. Health Care Center, Lakin Hospital, Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital, Welch Community Hospital and William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital.
Young served as the county health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department from 2019 to 2021, directing the county’s COVID-19 response. Most recently, Young worked at the Charleston Area Medical Center as an associate chief medical officer and clinical leader for the CAMC Health Network. She was previously the state’s immunization officer.
“I just want to thank Gov. Justice first of all for giving us this opportunity to look at the Department of Health and all the things we have done well and all the things we want to continue to do well, and to give this opportunity to use to see what else can be done for the health of our West Virginia citizens,” Young said. “We have work to do and we have the right resources. We just need to align those resources so our citizens can have the care that they need and deserve.”
The Department of Health would oversee the Bureau for Public Health, the Health Care Authority, the Center for Threat Preparedness and the offices of Emergency Medical Services, the Chief Medical Examiner and the Office of Inspector General.
Persily is the Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. She is formerly the CEO of Highland Hospital in Charleston from 2013-20. She also spent more than 20 years at West Virginia University in multiple roles, including as deputy director of the West Virginia Rural Research Center and as executive director of the West Virginia Nursing Leadership Institute.
“This new vital agency will serve the most vulnerable people in our state, including children, families, and those in need of income and medical and healthcare assistance, those needing food and nutrition services, and those experiencing behavioral health challenges,” Persily said. “My mission in this role will be to effectively lead this transition for this division while also respecting the dignity and rights of our employees, but also who we serve.”
The new Department of Human Services would oversee the bureaus for Social Services, Medical Services, Child Support Enforcement, Family Assistance and Behavioral Health.
House Bill 2006, relating to reorganizing DHHR, was passed by the Legislature during the 2023 regular session and signed into law by Justice. The bill went into effect Tuesday.
Dr. Jeffrey Coben, the interim cabinet secretary for DHHR, said he would continue to serve the governor to help DHHR transition over to the three new departments. Coben, the associate vice president for health affairs at West Virginia University and dean of the School of Public Health, has served as interim DHHR secretary since December after the resignation of former DHHR cabinet secretary Bill Crouch.
“I look forward to working to assist with the leadership transition process in the weeks ahead,” Coben said. “I believe that we have some very strong positive momentum at DHHR and I’m very proud of the things we’ve been able to accomplish over the past several months … I am extremely excited about the current department and the three new departments we will be building together over these next several months.”
HB 2006 terminates DHHR and splits it into the three new departments effective Jan. 1, 2024. The new cabinet secretaries for the three departments would report directly to the governor. While independent of each other, the three departments will share one central Office of Shared Administration for administrative support services similar to the current structure of the departments of Commerce, Tourism and Economic Development.
The bill also provides greater autonomy to the Office of Inspector General, making it an office appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate with a five-year term limit. The new departments are required to cooperate with the Office of Inspector General which has subpoena power. While previously included within the Department of Human Services, a bill passed in this year’s session by the House would make the Office of Drug Control Policy an agency within the Governor’s Office.
DHHR is the state’s largest cabinet department both in staff and budget, with more than 4,900 employees and a combined state and federal budget exceeding $7 billion.
“By empowering our existing leadership team and adding three very talented new strong cabinet-level appointees, I think we have a tremendous foundation for a very bright future,” Coben said.
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