ELYRIA — Last week the county commissioners announced the merging of the county’s Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board and Mental Health Board by July 1, but what that new board will look like and how it will function remains a bit unclear.
Several reasons for the merger have been given, including the fact Lorain County is the only county in the state that still operates a separate ADAS and mental health board and an opportunity to improve efficiency. County Administrator Jim Cordes said there’s more to it than that, though.
“This is not merely a combining of the boards for just efficiency,” he said. “This is to get a whole new philosophical thinking of how to service the community.”
Mental Health Board Executive Director Kathleen Kern said her board has wanted a merger of the two.
“For a long time, our mental health board has been interested in moving towards integrated care, so we can treat the whole person,” Kern said. “We believe if the merger is done well, it could be very good for our community. We just want to make sure that the process of how the boards are merged is a good process so we can have a good result.”
Cordes said the new board probably will be made up of 18 members, 10 of which are appointed by the county and the other eight by the state.
The two current boards will be making recommendations for members of the new combined board, according to Cordes.
“We’ll be asking the boards for their recommendations of their appointments,” Cordes said. “The difficulty will be whether we accept their recommendations or not. (The Ohio Revised Code) doesn’t say we have to.”
Cordes said the commissioners are likely to appoint board members that have a philosophical thinking that’s close to their own philosophical thinking, saying “that’s what appointments to boards are supposed to be about.”
Once the board is in place, the real work will begin.
“One of the things we’re going to ask a new board to do in the first 30 days of convening is to get outside resources and working earnestly and quickly on a new strategic plan for the combined organization,” Cordes said. “I think it’s essential that they develop a new mission with regards to applications of services to the community.”
Kern said the commissioners are within their rights to merge the two boards, but she is surprised by the way the commissioners seem to be going about it.
“The piece about it that has been surprising to me is the decision that has been made that a lot of the planning is going to be done outside of our board members,” she said. “That just is not the way I anticipated it, based on the way it’s been done in other communities.”
The Mental Health Board’s offices are in a building owned by the county, 1173 North Ridge Road E. in Lorain, while the ADAS Board’s offices are in a rented space, 4950 Oberlin Ave. in Lorain. Cordes said the new organization probably will be at the North Ridge Road location, since the county owns the facilities.
ADAS Board Executive Director Elaine Georgas said her organization has eight full-time staff members, an AmeriCorps worker, a contractor and an intern. Kern said the Mental Health Board has 11 employees and one vacant position.
What the merger will mean for those employees is still unclear.
“Will there be some changes?” Cordes said. “There has to be, but those changes should not be done by the Board of Commissioners.”
Instead, those changes will be made by the new board, Cordes said.
Both Georgas and Kern said the employees of both organizations are concerned about the possible changes.
Georgas said the ADAS Board has an annual budget of $4.1 million, which is funded by the state budget and grants received. Kern said the Mental Health Board’s budget is about $15 million and is funded primarily by at 0.6-mill and 1.2 mill levy, along with some state funding.
Both Georgas and Kern said the important thing to remember is the community each of the organizations helps.
“With the consolidation that’s moving ahead, if we can take the best of the best from both boards, it’ll be a really good benefit for our community — not only for the individuals we serve, but their families and ultimately our communities,” Georgas said. “That’s really what this is all about.”
The commissioners have said they want to meet with the leadership of the two boards to discuss the implementation of the merger. Kern said there’s a meeting between the groups scheduled for Thursday.