The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee today recommended Tompkins County take the first steps to move toward a merged leadership structure for the County’s Public Health and Mental Health Departments, as recommended by the Task Force that has reviewed the issue for the past six months.
The resolution, which passed by a 3-1 vote, would authorize County Administrator Jason Molino “to implement a plan identifying the responsibilities of departmental leadership for the departments of Public Health and Mental Health to be provided in a merged model, beginning full operations as one merged department no later than July 1, 2021.” The merged organization would succeed the current shared leadership model, with one department head, Frank Kruppa, leading the two separate departments of Mental Health and Public Health, in effect since 2016.
As indicated by the Task Force, the resolution notes that “one department will best meet the needs of the clients, staff, and community as public health and mental health will function not just as opportunistic collaborating partners but will be working side-by-side to support progress toward achieving one single vision, and that as a single department, staff members will operate under a shared vision to support clients in achieving better health-related outcomes, be it mental or physical, both at the individual and community level.”
In today’s recommendation vote, Legislators Henry Granison and Anna Kelles, and Committee Chair Shawna Black voted in favor, and Legislator Dan Klein was opposed. As he has at two past meetings, Legislator Klein again raised concerns, saying he believes more questions need to be answered before any decision to change the structure is made. He claimed the report contained much opinion without a lot of detail; said he’d like more information about why the merged structure would be expected to cost more; and noted that only 40% of employees surveyed were prepared to immediately support a merger. Klein again recommended the County delay a decision on whether to change until it has fleshed out some of the “next steps” identified in the report.
Many comments in the discussion preceding the vote focused on quality of care—Administrator Molino noting that the expectation that the new arrangement would likely cost more relates to providing access to services to those not currently receiving them; Chair Black, a member of the Task Force saying that providing that increased access and putting mental health services in the forefront is important to her. Legislator Anna Kelles said this decision will rest on people’s comfort with change: “Do we as a group feel that this is the right thing to do, independent of whether we have all the answers?” she said. “Do we think the care that we will be providing will be superior? If so, we need to decide do we want to make the investment in this.”
The measure proceeds to consideration by the full Legislature December 17.
Review the Task Force Report, posted on the County website, at http://tompkinscountyny.gov/health/taskforcereport.
Contact: Shawna Black, Chair, Health and Human Services Committee, 607-351-7855