Published 11:52 am Monday, January 23, 2017

Special to The Leader

The major organizational overhaul of the state agencies charged with providing health and human services to Texans is progressing on schedule according to testimony offered before an oversight panel Tuesday evening. The state is in the midst of consolidating the five HHS agencies down into three, following a review showing lack of cooperation, efficiency and clearly defined leadership responsibilities. The change was mandated by legislation passed last session, and the bill’s author, Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound said that improving services for clients is the number one goal of this transformation. “Obviously I’d love to save money anywhere I can take it but that wasn’t the reason we did this. It was to improve health outcomes and that was the reason we did it and that has to be your constant key mission in this restructuring as we move forward,” she told new HHSC Executive Commissioner Charles Smith at Tuesday’s meeting.

The push for consolidation came after a 2013-14 Sunset Commission review of the five state agencies charged with providing health and human services. The commission found fragmentation of services and a lack of coordination between agencies even when providing services to the same person. It also determined that the structure bred inefficiencies and blurred lines of authority. The Sunset report said that the level of confusion at the administrative level significantly impacted contracting policy at the various agencies, and recommended consolidation of the five agencies into one, the Health and Human Services Commission.

The Legislature chose to preserve two independent agencies, the Department of Family and Protective Services and Department of State Health Services. Two other agencies, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) and the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) would be dissolved and the HHSC would take over most those duties. The full integration is scheduled to be complete by 2019, and is intended to happen with no interruption in services to clients.

Phase one of the integration plan was completed on September 1, 2016 and perhaps the most notable client-facing change was a new website, designed to help people find programs that might once have been spread across several agencies, determine eligibility and apply for help.   It also saw the completion of moving DARS services to HHSC and the Texas Workforce Commission.

The next step is to move DADS services under HHSC, and that’s going to be a massive undertaking according to Commissioner Smith. He said HHSC will have to integrate 24,000 new employees into its system, six times as many as in phase one. DADS currently oversees state hospitals and other facilities like nursing homes and provides services to more than a million people in Texas. Phase Two is scheduled for completion by September 1, 2017.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, January 23 at 2:00 p.m.