Commissioners to discuss social services, health department consolidation

Commissioners to discuss social services, health department consolidation
February 15
09:41 2018

During a tumultuous time at the Department of Social Services, Forsyth county commissioners will be discussing the possibility of consolidating it with the Health Department.

The county commissioned a study last year by Cansler Collaborative Resources to look into consolidating the two departments, an option given to counties by a 2012 state law. The commissioners heard a presentation on its options in December and plan to discuss them during a winter work session on Feb. 22 that starts at 9 a.m. in the Forsyth County Library auditorium. Former N.C. Health Secretary Lanier Cansler, who owns the Cansler firm, is expected to make a presentation followed by a discussion by the commissioners. There is no voting during winter work sessions, but commissioners may give staff directives there that could result in an item they’ll vote on later.

Currently both of these large departments have their own boards, which hire their department directors. Consolidation mainly involves who runs the departments, which would involve eliminating or combining the boards. Cansler’s study recommended that if the county consolidated, that it use an option that involves a combined board of human services with a human services director, which the county manager would hire with the board’s advice and consent. The board would have similar positions to the current health board, but with new required positions for its DSS half, such as social services clients and their family members. The State Human Resources Act, which employees of both departments are under, would be optional.

County Commissioner and DSS Board Chair Fleming El-Amin said that he’s reviewed the information in Cansler’s report, but was still undecided on consolidation. He said he’s heard success stories from counties that have done it, but others have had problems consolidating. He said he wants what’s best for those that the departments serve.

“I want to make sure it fits our needs,” El-Amin said about any possible changes to the departments.

In an unrelated matter, the DSS Board voted to fire the department’s director, Debra Donahue, on Thursday, Feb. 8. In early January, DSS employees were informed Donahue would be absent as Deputy County Manger Ronda Tatum acted as interim Social Services director. County Human Resources Director Shontell Robinson said the county couldn’t comment on Donahue’s situation since then due to state law, but that the letter of dismissal she was sent last week was public record.

The letter said that she was terminated due to “unacceptable personal conduct and grossly inefficient job performance.” The letter said that Donahue didn’t renew a contract with the Salvation Army without notice and attempts to bring the emergency assistance program in-house resulted in it running out of money prematurely. It also said she didn’t bill Medicaid for services, costing the county $200,000. It also said that her “tone and behavior were unprofessional, disrespectful, accusatory and quite disturbing” when she was issued her critical performance evaluation by the board on Dec. 18, 2017 and that she canceled follow-up meetings after that and didn’t come to work afterwards.  It said she exhibited similar behavior in a meeting with the Salvation Army that she walked out of.

El-Amin said that Tatum was promptly brought in as interim director to make sure that services were not interrupted by the situation with Donahue. He said the DSS board will discuss the process of searching for a new director in its next meeting.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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