Fwd: Allegheny County: death by redtape

Agent Smiley (smiley_777@hotmail.com)
Tue, 09 Mar 1999 15:14:34 PST

----Original Message Follows----
From: World Homeless Union <worldhomeless@hotmail.com>
Subject: Allegheny County: death by redtape
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1999 10:45:39 PST

Insight: Unified human services stalling
County's handling of funds a concern

Monday, March 08, 1999

By Barbara White Stack, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Here's the idea: Don't make a troubled, ailing or
needy person wander from office to office across
Allegheny County to collect nuggets of service.
Instead, one caseworker, or a team of social
workers, would help a mentally ill teen-ager or
homeless senior citizen or abusive, drug-addicted
mother get all the services necessary.

That's the theory behind a unified, seamless
county Human Services Department, a concept that
appears to have widespread support. It was
heralded at a press conference last month by
county Commissioners Mike Dawida and Bob Cranmer.

Foundations have donated $500,000 to set it up.
The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce contributed a
year's research.

Still, the state Department of Public Welfare,
which provides virtually all of the money to pay
for these services, hasn't approved the plan.
The catch for DPW and others who have raised
concerns seems to be money.

How will unified services be financed? Will money
designated for one purpose now be used for another
- for instance, will Department of Aging money be
used to help the mentally ill, or funds for the
mentally retarded be used for abused and neglected

Human Services Director Marc Cherna says the money
will not be mixed together.

But his assurances were not enough for Louise
Costa, chairwoman of the Department of Aging's
advisory board. Aging has refused to join the
integration plan, in part, because of concerns
that caseworkers who aren't trained to work with
the elderly might be used for that purpose.

The Health Department won't join either. Its
director, Dr. Bruce Dixon, said his department
provides few direct services to consumers and is
supervised by a governing board, not by the county
commissioners, as are the other agencies.

Although they technically are part of the Human
Services Department, neither Aging nor Health are
run by Cherna.

But he does supervise two of the other agencies to
be merged - Children, Youth and Families and
Mental Health/Mental Retardation, which includes
Drug & Alcohol. They're in the process of being
integrated, despite some worries by Richard S.
Jevon, MH/MR advisory board president, and Marsha
Blanco, chief executive officer of ARC Allegheny,
an advocacy group for the retarded.

Welfare officials vague

State Welfare officials have declined to say what
their problems are with Cherna's merger plan,
except to issue a statement that "we have
specialized requirements for mental health, mental
retardation, and children and youth services ...

It is important that we are assured
programmatically, fiscally and administratively
that the [county] organization will have a
structure that assures accountability."

But state officials clearly are troubled by
something, because they already have approved
similar integration plans in other counties,
including Delaware, Erie and Tioga. Cherna's
request for DPW's blessing has gone unanswered for
more than a year.

There are some indications that DPW's concern may
involve Allegheny County's history of handling
human services money. Several of the agencies that
Cherna wants to merge are currently the subject of
special audits by DPW to determine whether money
has been spent properly.

In addition, the state Civil Service Commission
has told DPW that Cherna has contracted out jobs
that should have been filled through the state's
merit system. Some state and federal funding is
contingent on proper merit hiring practices.

The county commissioners created the Department of
Human Services in 1996 as a tent covering a
variety of county agencies - Aging; Health;
Children, Youth and Families; Mental Health/Mental
Retardation; Drug & Alcohol; Homeless and Hunger;
and Community Services, which includes
federally-funded programs such as Head Start and
transportation services for people on medical

These programs probably touch more people than any
other county department except the real estate
assessment office. They serve 500,000 people a
year, at a cost of $508 million. The county pays
$24 million of that, or about 5 percent. The rest
comes from federal and state funds.

In 1997, the commissioners named Cherna, then
director of CYF, to head the new department. Since
then, he has tried to make the department more
than a collection of independent agencies.

He wants to coordinate the agencies as much as
possible, so that they would serve people the way
a family physician does.

Eventually, Cherna would like to see a team of
caseworkers from various agencies assess the
person's needs and work together on them or have a
single caseworker use a computer to enroll the
client in various programs.

More cooperation

Current plans mostly involve getting upper level
managers to cooperate more.

A report by the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of
Commerce suggested that certain functions, such as
fiscal management, personnel and planning, which
are now done separately in each agency, be

The first group of about 80 administrators whose
work is to be coordinated will move by the end of
this month, with or without the OK from the
Welfare Department.

Cherna said he doesn't think he needs Welfare's
approval. "The counties do have latitude in how to
get the job done. Moving people to another site
does not change anything."

Welfare rules would, however, bar him from putting
all of the money he receives for the different
agencies into one big pot and spending it as he
sees fit. He also said he has no immediate plans
to create generic caseworkers who would serve all
of the agencies.

Despite that, some people on the boards that watch
over the agencies are worried. Costa believed
Cherna wouldn't pool Aging's money with other
funds, but "my concern was the caseworkers.

Our caseworkers are trained for the elderly. What
if they decided to send someone from CYF to do
something with an elderly person? To me, they are
not trained to do that. It didn't sound right to

Protecting the money

Jevon and Blanco, advocates for the mentally ill
and the retarded, are more concerned about
possible mixing of money. Advocacy groups have
lobbied long and hard to get state and federal
funds dedicated to people with those disabilities.

Blanco said for the past two years, the state
Legislature has allocated money for raises for
people working with the mentally ill in group
homes, but Cherna has used it for other purposes.

Blanco said she is worried that administrative
money allocated for one department could easily be
spent on another. "Through shifts in
administrative overhead, one can take millions of
dollars out of an area designated for persons with
mental retardation or mental health," she said.

Welfare officials have told her that they've asked
Cherna to prove that such cost shifting will not
occur, and that's part of the delay in getting
approval for the new county Human Services

Despite Cherna's current contention that the
mixing money won't occur, some say that is what
ought to be done eventually.

Michael Marks, chairman of the Drug & Alcohol
Planning Council and a member of the Human
Services Department Oversight Committee, said
"Everyone is working very hard ... toward a
state-of-the-art service delivery system," and in
such a system, money would not be pigeonholed.

And while Cherna says he has no immediate plans to
create generic caseworkers, some employees say
that's what he tried to accomplish, without
success, during recent contract negotiations with
the CYF employees' union.

Cherna chalks up much of the opposition to fear of

"We have not implemented anything that should give
people cause to be fearful. It is very well
received by a vast majority of people in the
community. I do not know where this is coming from
except people fear change and the unknown."


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