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Committee Discusses Leadership Structure for Mental Health Department

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Committee Discusses Leadership Structure for Mental Health Department

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee today discussed two alternatives regarding leadership of the County Mental Health Department.

One approach, presented for discussion by County Administrator Joe Mareane, would authorize a plan to expand the responsibilities of the Public Health Director to include management of the department, making other necessary change to facilitate that plan. The proposal would extend for another four years the current shared leadership of the Health and Mental Health Departments, as has been done by Public Health Director Frank Kruppa on an interim basis for the past eight months, with full evaluation of the approach to be conducted in the fourth year.

The other alternative, advanced by Legislator Will Burbank, would call for a renewed search for a Commissioner of Mental Health, while also forming a task force to examine operations and consider the future directions of both Health and Mental Health departments, including consideration of advantages and disadvantages of potential merged approaches.

In well over an hour of thoughtful discussion, several members of the Community Mental Health Services Board expressed their concern over adopting a long-term structural change, and said that any change should take place only after careful study of options and alternatives.  Speaking in support of this position were Community Mental Health Services Board president Jan Lynch, and members Larry Roberts, Susan Crowell, and Carol Booth; and Jean Poland, representing the National Alliance on Mental Illness of the Finger Lakes.  Members of Mental Health staff, including Fiscal Manager Betsy Doling and Medical Director John Bezirganian, spoke in strong support of the continuing the current arrangement, which they said is working extremely well. Administrator Mareane called his recommended three-year trial a “cautious step forward” and said, “I feel absolutely that this is the way to optimize the performance of the Mental Health Department.”

While noting that he serves at the pleasure of the County Administrator, Director Kruppa indicated that it would not be in his best interests or the best interests of the department to continue to serve on an interim basis through another Commissioner search, if that is what the Legislature decides.

Legislator Burbank’s proposal was advanced to a preliminary vote, and was recommended by a 3-1 margin—Legislators Burbank, Carol Chock, and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne in favor, Chair Peter Stein opposed. The next step will be to discuss the alternatives at a special, joint meeting of Health and Human Services, and Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committees, yet to be scheduled. That discussion will take place before any recommendation is advanced to the full Legislature.