Department consolidation makes sense

Dec 02, 2012

As the county studies the merger of its two largest functions — the health department and the social services department — there appears to be an opportunity to gain efficiencies and provide better service.

Both departments are primarily funded by the state and federal governments. The money passes through the county coffers as that is the “boots on the ground” entity connecting the programs to the people who need them.

A quick search through the departments’ directories can confirm how broad those services are and the extent to which the population needing the available services overlap.

There are programs that encompass everything from before birth to near death and most life phases in-between. The health department oversees children’s health issues for low-income families, while the social services department focus is nutrition and an adequate living situation. Those with disabilities depend on services from both, as do senior citizens whose money has run out before their days on this earth.

The health department is a regulatory arm when it comes to restaurant inspections, septic systems or other environmental safety issues, and the social services department has enforcement-type duties when it comes to ensuring child support is paid or children don’t remain in a hostile home environment.

But the people-basesd programs that offer everything from healthy living tips to worker training to providing for the most basic of life’s needs are essentially aimed at the same population.

It makes sense that there’s collaboration between all the entities serving a single family or individual. A common record-keepping system is logical, as is a shared program to apply for services.

Many of those needing assistance are unable to fill out the forms on their own and need assistance from agency personnel. Cutting down on the number of application forms should save departmental time and resources.

The county is moving slowly, which makes perfect sense. County leaders lobbied for changed legislation that would allow Haywood to explore the option, and recently key personnel from the county and both departments met in a four-hour meeting to discuss the opportunities and implications.

On the surface, the program seems like a solid idea, and one that will be beneficial for years to come.  Hats off to those spearheading the effort.