Agencies meet to address rehabilitation needs - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Agencies meet to address rehabilitation needs

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Two questions posed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to Secretary of Education and the Arts Kay Goodwin have turned into a collaborative effort to provide the most efficient and effective assistance to inmates who complete their sentences and want to return to the workforce.

Goodwin told lawmakers during an Oct. 22 interim committee meeting of the Legislature Tomblin asked her how could federal money given to the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services be used to best treat prisoners. He also wanted to assure that all West Virginians are fully utilizing the federal money allotted to the Division of Rehabilitation Services.

"That was music to my ears," Goodwin said, explaining to lawmakers that most people don't realize DRS falls under her purview. "Since I came to state government … almost 13, 14 years ago, I've been trying, really trying, to underscore and to sell the excellent services that rehabilitation offers and trying to get — and this is our mission — to get West Virginia's disabled folks back to work."

Goodwin said she has been part of a loosely gathered "collaborative" of state agencies affected by the state's massive drug abuse problem. 

"The idea was to get a conversation started, and we started with DRS and the Department of Health and Human Resources, then with different interested government players," Goodwin said.

She said the organizations are trying to share information about how to most effectively use the funds each agency presently gets.

"We have mapped areas where we co-exist, and there is substantial overlap," Goodwin said. "Awareness, just knowing that, is helpful." 

Goodwin praised Tomblin's substance abuse task force and said its members had been meeting with the collaborative.

Lawmakers also heard from Victoria Jones, who works with DHHR's Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities and is a member of Tomblin's task force. Jones reminded lawmakers the task force was charged with prioritizing the state's drug abuse prevention strategies, treatment service expansion, accountability and data-informed decision making.

"We have met not only at the local level, but we have done so in the advisory council as well," Jones said. "Since September 2011, the regional substance abuse task force members have met 66 times with more than 3,000 people in attendance.

"These are individuals from all walks of life — workforce, housing, providers and others."

Jones said Tomblin's advisory council on substance abuse has been assessing resource gaps, reviewing the progress of the statewide strategic action plan and learning about regional task force initiatives.

"We understand that when we're dealing with substance abuse, some things can be accomplished at local levels, but there are some things bigger than them," she said. "As a result of these meetings, the collaborative has developed recommendations."

Jones said the group has met with the top 10 employers in each region of the state to ask what help the employers need to have a healthy workforce.