County considers creating superagency

November 30, 2006 12:00 am

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

As Del Norte County ends the year without a director of its Department of Mental Health, several options for the agency's future are being discussed.

One is the creation of a superagency — an idea made possible a couple years ago when Patty Berg successfully got AB 1881 passed by the state legislature.

Berg's constituency includes Del Norte County.

Her bill initially authorized Humboldt, Mendocino and Alameda counties to implement "integrated health and human services programs."

The bill was expanded after Jan. 1, 2005, to allow other counties to work with the state Health and Human Services department to implement similar programs with the approval of the county board of supervisors, to fund and provide health and human services to their residents.

Mick Miller retired as Mental Health Department director earlier this fall. Although action to replace him has been on the board of supervisors agenda, some county sources close to the replacement process have indicated other options also are being considered.

"Whenever you have a department head retire, it's a good time to look at all options," said Sarah Sampels, District 4 county supervisor.

"To me the goal is delivering good service to the county," added Martha McClure, who represents District 2.

In Humboldt County, Phil Crandall prefers the term "integrated agency" to the superagency designation.

"Humboldt is more holistic," he said. "Our services are siloed, and it's different for a superagency where all the departments are district and separate."

Crandall said the goal is to create a department that looks at its clients as "whole people" and provide health, social and mental health services to them on that basis.

"The clients need to be part of the launch process, it's a chance to revisit how a county's services are used," he said.

Humboldt County made the change seven years ago, putting Crandall in charge of the newly re-tooled agency.

Although he was promoted from within, Crandall said that any county considering a similar move should move carefully before making final decisions.

"Great care needs to be paid to the agency's mission, its values and its goals," he said. "Counties need to make sure the uniqueness of the departments involved and their specialties are maintained."

A process such as government, he added, should be transparent and accountable to its constituents.

"A small county's resources are woefully inadequate," Crandall said.

In deciding who should head the new department, Crandall said it is important that the person chosen is familiar with the county's resources and idiosyncracies.

"The Health and Human Services director needs management skills, but it's much more important that he or she be a visionary," he said. "The person needs a strong capacity to lead because they could deal with an emergency — each person in the county could feel the effect of what they do."

When Crandall got his new job, he brought 30 years experience in county government with him. Sixteen of those years were in the mental health field.

Shasta County recently changed from separate to combined health and human services delivery, appointing its director from within.

An interim director heads a newly rearranged Health and Human Services department in Mendocino County, but did not return a call placed for her comments.