A makeover is in the works that could dramatically alter the way human services are delivered to thousands of people in Mercer County.

County Commissioner Olivia M. Lazor said Tuesday the board plans to appoint a task force that will study the people-driven industry for several months and present the findings to commissioners as early as March.

Ms. Lazor said the primary motivation for taking a look at the issue is to make delivery of services more efficient while at the same time hopefully providing some financial savings. Among the affected county agencies, as well as the people who use their services, would be Children and Youth Services, Mental Health/Mental Retardation and Juvenile Probation.

Ultimately, Ms. Lazor envisions a system where anyone seeking some form of human services would go through a “central intake” area. For example, instead of having eight people managing a family because of services being provided by multiple agencies, under the new model there might be only one or two who are “cross-trained,” perhaps, to work as case managers in different areas.

She cautioned that the changes won’t occur — and shouldn’t occur — overnight.

“Change is difficult and we want everybody to be comfortable,” she said, but emphasized she was “excited to see people are interested in seeing this move forward.”

Tioga County has all of its human services departments under one umbrella, but Mercer County couldn’t go quite that far because two of the local agencies — Behavioral Health Commission and Area Agency on Aging — are private nonprofits.

Ms. Lazor would like to see a human services administrative position created to oversee what would technically become assistant directors at Children and Youth and Juvenile Probation. Essentially, the county would consolidate the directorships of those two agencies to create the position. The county would also create an assistant director’s position, effectively making it a wash as far as personnel levels go.

Ms. Lazor said the idea of making an organizational change arose last summer. In addition, the state is on record as saying there’s a “great need” for this kind of integration, she added.

“If we can reduce the amount of ramp-up time and integrate actual care plans for the children and their families, they can get in and out of the system more efficiently and more effectively,” said Lizette Olsen, director of AWARE Inc.

Ms. Olsen is one of the volunteers tabbed for the task force that’s being asked to make recommendations to commissioners. Others include: Nancy Yauger, a licensed school psychologist; Cecelia Yauger, assistant chief executive officer of Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV; Fred Kiser, a retired school guidance counselor and member of the Children and Youth advisory board; Frasier B. Zahniser, Mercer County Cooperative Extension educator for Family Living/4-H Youth; George Cavanaugh, Behavioral Health Commission’s chief executive officer; Cathy Main, MH/MR director; and Mary Ann Daniels, Children and Youth director.

“I’m looking forward to seeing this all develop,” Ms. Main said. She believes it would also lead to a reduction in duplication of services.

Most of the money that supports human services locally are pass-through dollars, or provided by state and federal agencies, but those dollars comprise more than half of the county’s $67 million annual budget.

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