March 14, 2012

LePage submits bill to consolidate DHHS

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA — Mainers requiring social services would get them in a more coordinated and seamless fashion, with more emphasis on their long-term and overall needs, if a plan unveiled today to restructure the state's social-services agency wins legislative approval.

The bill to be submitted by Gov. Paul LePage is also aimed at eliminating duplication and streamlining services in the Department of Health and Human Services. While it's expected to save some money and eliminate nearly 50 jobs, that is not the point of the bill, said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

"The goals of restructuring are to focus more resources on the consumer, to improve front-line resources and better integrate services over the age span and across many layers of care," Mayhew said.

Officials said the proposal culminates several months of planning and has nothing to do with a recently discovered computer glitch that resulted in up to 19,000 people receiving services through MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, for which they weren't eligible.

The sprawling department, which provides multiple federal-state services and programs to people of all ages, would consolidate the department's five programs into three to reduce administration and improve efficiency. The plan calls for elimination of 91 positions and creation of 44, for a net loss of 47 positions, some of which are vacant and others that will transition to private agencies. Cost savings are in the $500,000 range, but Mayhew said that number could change. She said no office closures are part of the proposal.

The current DHHS structure dates to 2004, when the former departments of Human Services, and Behavioral and Development Services, were merged. But even after that consolidation, many of the services and programs remained in "silos," said Bonnie Smith, deputy commissioner for programs. That prompted a closer look at "how people fit into these neat compartments," said Smith.

It turns out many of the DHHS clients are served by more than one of the department's offices, which serve the elderly, people with disabilities or mental health issues, those needing substance abuse treatment, and families and children. Officials saw that many people struggling with addiction also needed mental health services. The same connection was found between those receiving elder services and disability assistance.

"Instead of fitting into one, neat compartment, it's really much more complex," said Smith. "The need for integration became apparent."

The proposed reorganization also hopes to improve the transition of young Mainers from children's services to adult services.

What happens too often now is that the state loses track of children when they approach age 18, and adult services are not told of their longer-term needs, said Smith. The reorganization would bring about a more seamless transition, she said.

In addition, contracts with service providers would be consolidated across the programs, which will reduce administrative costs and improve efficiency, officials said.


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