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Legislature Receives Report Recommending Merger of Public Health and Mental Health Departments

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Legislature Receives Report Recommending Merger of Public Health and Mental Health Departments

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Scheduled to consider the future structure of the leadership structure of the County’s Public Health and Mental Health Departments at its next meeting, the Legislature received a detailed presentation from the Task Force that for the past six months has conducted a comprehensive examination of the current shared-leadership structure of the two departments, in place since 2016. Since that time, department head Frank Kruppa has served as both Public Health Director and Commissioner of Mental Health.  The Task Force calls for a full merger of the two departments, recommending that “the Tompkins County Mental Health Department and Public Health Department begin the process to become one integrated/merged department, creating a system of collaborative services under a single umbrella.”

A proposed resolution, to be considered by the Legislature December 17, 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 presentation followed a similar one made to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee November 14.   The Task Force evaluated three options, considering the advantages and disadvantages of each: continuing that shared leadership model; separation of leadership and operations of the Mental Health and Public Health Departments; and a full merger of leadership and operations of the two departments. 

Rejecting both the options of continuing the shared leadership model and returning to the former stand-alone department structure, the Task Force in its report concludes:  “[I]t would be a disservice to the residents of Tompkins County to continue to treat health in the silos of physical and mental health.  The synergies created by the two departments becoming one, which will serve all clients as whole persons, are vital in supporting our community. The Task Force states unequivocally its support for the value of both mental health and physical health services. Pursuit of an integrated/merged model should not diminish the focus or relative worth of one service over the other. They are both integral to the health and wellness of Tompkins County residents and should be treated as such.”

Several Legislators praised the quality of the report and the extensive work that has been done over many months.  Legislator Anna Kelles said she appreciates the focus on quality of service.  Health and Human Services Chair Shawna Black, who served on the Task Force, said she is confident that the merger will put Mental Health “in the forefront.”  As he had in committee, Legislator Dan Klein, however, said he still needs more detail about what the merged arrangement would look like and that he would like to flesh out some of the “next steps” identified in the report before the County makes a decision.

The proposed resolution will be considered by the Health and Human Services Committee December 6 before coming to the Legislature December 17.