WOODLAND — Yolo County supervisors on Tuesday directed staff to move ahead with a plan that ultimately would consolidate three separate agencies into a single Department of Health and Human Services.
But proponents stressed that the process would be a lengthy one, with final approval from supervisors not expected until this time next year.
“We plan to use all of calendar year 2014 to plan,” Health Director Jill Cook told supervisors. “This will be a long process.”
That planning, Cook said, will include regular updates to supervisors and local advisory boards as well as opportunities to seek input from interested parties along the way.
Under the plan, the Department of Health; Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health; and Department of Employment and Social Services would be merged into one entity with the ultimate goal of providing a single access point for county residents seeking services.
“Rather than treating a client’s specific need through a specific department,” the staff report said, “an integrated service agency can address the full spectrum of the client’s health and human services needs at a single point of service. A fully integrated agency provides more responsive and comprehensive care by reducing bureaucracy and barriers to service.”
Concern about the proposed consolidation is highest among advocates for the mentally ill, who fear those clients getting lost in a large department responsible for everything from food stamps to child protective services, homeless assistance to in-home support services.
On Tuesday, the president of NAMI-Yolo laid out those concerns for supervisors.
“We are concerned that alcohol, drug and mental health priorities will be overlooked,” Nancy Temple said. “We fear that people that don’t understand serious mental illnesses and substance abuse will overlook critical needs.”
Temple urged supervisors to ensure that a new, consolidated department include a director of mental health and that mental health expertise be included among senior staff.
Supervisor Don Saylor of Davis, who voted with the rest of the board to move ahead with the plan, assured Temple, “these concerns will be looked through very carefully over the course of this year.”
Mark Bryant, acting director of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health, further stressed the importance of staying in close communication with the Local Mental Health Board as the consolidation plan is formulated.
“We need to keep up with our level of communication,” Bryant said, “seeking feedback, (ensuring) they are included in the process.”
Bryant also urged ongoing focus on the best possible outcomes for clients.
“Outcomes will be a real driving force,” he said. “The desire and goal is to improve services to consumers. If we don’t keep an eye on the outcomes, we will just create a worse situation. … We need to create wraparound services to clients and get rid of artificial barriers.”
Bryant and Cook, as well as Joan Planell, current director of the Department of Employment and Social Services, will serve on the steering committee that will draft the consolidation plan.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy