West Virginia Ombudsman Resigns Amid Lawsuit

(RepublicanDaily.org) – Pamela Woodman-Kaehler, the first ombudsman of the foster care program of West Virginia, announced that she will be stepping down from her post.

In a statement released by the Mountain State’s Department of Health, Woodman-Kaehler resigned to “pursue a new opportunity.” Her resignation takes effect on June 6. Elizabeth Hardy, who serves as deputy director of the ombudsman’s office for foster care, will assume the position in the interim until a replacement is found.

As she left, Woodman-Kaehler asserted that the current state of the ombudsman’s office for the state’s foster care system is “exceptionally well positioned” to continue to meet the needs of the program. Still, West Virginia has one of the most burdened and most overwhelmed foster care systems in the country, with around 6,000 kids in a population of roughly 1.8 million.

The ombudsman’s office was created in 2019 to address multiple claims of neglect and abuse suffered by children in the system. The program was amended by state lawmakers in 2023 both to expand and better-define the ombudsman’s duties, with another state law passed this year that made the Office of Inspector General – under which the foster care ombudsman operates – into a separate and independent state agency. The agency would be tasked to address and remove incidents of fraud, waste, and abuse inside and outside of the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, and Department of Health Facilities, which until this year all operated as one unit called the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Woodman-Kaehler’s resignation comes on the heels of an ongoing class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the children in the state’s foster care system, which claims that children in the state’s care are lacking in mental health support and are over institutionalized, on top of the state not having sufficient case workers to meet the children’s needs.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice was dismissive about questions that Woodman-Kaehler resigned due to the lawsuit, saying, “She got a better job, guys. I mean, that’s all there is to it.”

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