SC lawmakers consider splitting state health department

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) – From coordinating the state’s pandemic response to issuing food safety permits to regulating dams, responsibilities entrusted to the Department of Health and Environmental Control of South Carolina, or DHEC, are vast.

Corn state lawmakers have characterized the department of about 3,500 employees is unwieldy and, at times, inefficient, and an influential state senator’s efforts to dismantle DHEC go through the South Carolina Senate.

“[It’s] the product of many, many hours by staff, members of the Medical Affairs Committee and those who will be affected by this,” said Senator Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, of the legislation. . Peeler is the main sponsor of the bill, S.2which counts Republicans and Democrats among its co-sponsors.

S.2 would disband DHEC and create two new cabinet-level agencies: the Department of Behavioral and Public Health and the Department of Environmental Services.

Behavioral and Public Health would take over DHEC’s health responsibilities and encompass the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Substance Abuse Services, both of which would cease to exist.

The environmental monitoring function of DHEC would be transferred to the Department of Environmental Services, which would also take over the current Water Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources.

Meanwhile, two of DHEC’s other current responsibilities, oversight of veterans care homes and food security programs, would be transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the state Department of Agriculture, respectively.

“I think it’s a great work product that has the ability to focus on areas that need attention and opportunities to bring people together, those of like minds, services like behavioral health services “said Senate Speaker Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, mentioned.

After receiving a favorable report from a Senate subcommittee last week, the bill could face its first big vote as early as Thursday, when the Senate Medical Affairs Committee is due to meet with this bill and several others. bills on its busy agenda. S.2 would still need the approval of the House of Representatives and Governor Henry McMaster to go into effect.

If it becomes law, as currently drafted, the entire transition will need to be completed by June 30, 2023.

In a statement, DHEC said: “We stand ready to work with our partners and employees to put in place any changes to our structure should this or any other bill become law with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the implementation work is as transparent as possible for the people we serve and our employees.

The new chairman of the board that oversees the DHEC told lawmakers earlier this month that he believes the idea behind the bill is good but would like more information on the effects of a split, such as how much it would cost or save the state financially.

S.2 would also disband that council, along with the state Mental Health Commission.

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