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Ohio merging mental health, drug abuse agencies

Associated Press Modified: May 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm •  Published: May 5, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — State agencies providing mental-health and substance-abuse services in Ohio will be merged pending legislative approval into a single agency with a combined 2,500 employees and a budget in excess of $650 million.

The administration of Gov. John Kasich said the merger will reduce bureaucratic clutter.

The move was announced Friday and involves the Ohio Department of Mental Health and the Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.

They will be merged July 1 pending legislative approval.

State officials tell The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/JKnP7j) that layoffs are not expected, although the combined work force may shrink with attrition.

Mental Health Department Director Tracy J. Plouck will lead the new agency and alcohol and drug agency Director Orman Hall will continue in a cabinet-level position, reporting to Gov. John Kasich.

"It's going to be a brand-new department that balances the mental-health and addiction interests in a way I think is going to be very productive," Hall said.

A union official said employees were caught off-guard by the announcement.

"We are just now hearing about this," said Sally Meckling of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents many employees in both agencies. "Obviously, it's better when those who do the work are involved in the discussions."

Meckling said she is concerned that the focus on drug and gambling addiction will lessen in the combined agency. "This strikes us as doing less with less."

Shortly after he took office last year, Kasich created the Office of Health Transformation to overhaul the $15.4 billion Medicaid program and to recommend a new organizational structure for the state's health and human-service agencies. Six departments overlap many services and functions.

"As we were trying to integrate, the separation of these two agencies was something that started getting in the way," said Greg Moody, director of the office.

Terry Russell, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Ohio, said he thinks, "overall, anytime you can make government smaller so that more money goes for services, we're supportive. Tracy Plouck and the governor appear to understand mental health better than anyone in the recent past."

The merger will affect an array of local agencies, programs and services, including 50 county boards of alcohol and drug addiction and mental health, and about 300 addiction-treatment agencies and 400 mental-health agencies.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com


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