Commissioners to vote on exploring Human Services Consolidation

Commissioners to vote on exploring Human Services Consolidation
March 01
07:00 2018

Forsyth County commissioners plan to vote on authorizing staff to explore consolidating the departments of Social Services and Public Health. Commissioners are tentatively set to vote on this issue on March 15.

Last year, the county hired Cansler Collaborative Resources to do a study on consolidating the two departments, which mainly involves who runs them.  After a presentation by the firm’s founder, former N.C. Health Secretary Lanier Cansler, during the county’s Winter Work Session on Thurs., Feb 22, the commissioners decided that they’ll vote next month on authorizing staff to figure out how consolidation would work in Forsyth County. The vote does not mean they will consolidate; only that staff is exploring the option.

Currently, the two departments have their own boards, which hire those department’s directors. Consolidation would put commissioners and the county manager more directly in charge of them.  Cansler said this is an option they might want to consider since a new state law will hold counties directly responsible for their Department of Social Services (DSS). Each county will have a contract with standards and goals for its DSS. If it falls short, there will be corrective action plans. If that doesn’t work, the state may temporarily take over the department. The county will have to pay the state back for the benefits received by anyone who is enrolled in Medicaid that’s not eligible.

“How do you avoid potential takeover, potential loss of funds, etc?” asked Cansler.

He said consolidation would mean the county would have the power to fire a DSS director who is mismanaging the agency. The existing DSS board, which already has two commissioners on it, actually did fire DSS Director Debra Donahue last month for what it said was mismanagement. Cansler also said there may be greater efficiency in services from consolidation.

The Cansler study said that combining the boards of the two departments into one Human Services board would be the best option. The department would be headed by a Human Services Director, which the county manager would hire with the board’s advice and consent. The State Human Resources Act would be optional, so Human Services employees could be under the same policies as other county employees instead.

County Commissioner Chair Dave Plyler, who is on the DSS board, said he’d support consolidation if it can make the service better for clients of both departments. Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt, who is on the Public Health board, said she thought it made sense because they’re on the same campus. Commissioner Ted Kaplan said he supported it as did Don Martin who thought it would help clients, minimize risk to the county and simplify personnel policy.

“We’ve been looking at this issue of consolidation for some time,” said Martin. “I kind of look at things, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen? What’s the biggest downside?’ and quiet frankly I don’t see one.”

Commissioner Richard Linville wasn’t ready to approve consolidation but did support having staff explore the option. Commissioner Fleming El-Amin, who chairs the DSS board, said he also wasn’t sold on the concept, but was okay with exploring it as long as it included what it takes for DSS and Public Health staff to meet new state standards.

Commissioner Everette Witherspoon was the only hard “no” to consolidation, saying he was cynical of Cansler and felt that consolidation won’t solve the issues at DSS.

“It sounds good politically, but the problems at DSS are the under funding and staffing of DSS,” said Witherspoon.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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