TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY—The new Department of Comprehensive Health Care is just a public hearing away from formal establishment, and that public hearing will be scheduled for early November.
Although a merger between the county’s Department of Public Health and Department of Mental Health was approved by the Tompkins County Legislature in 2019, it was put on hold by COVID-19. It got back on track earlier this year and is nearing completion, and a resolution allowing a public hearing to implement the merger passed unanimously at the Oct. 17 meeting of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. (The meeting can be watched here, and the agenda can be found here.)
“This is the formal process of actually merging the two departments together, and it creates a single new department of comprehensive health,” said Public Health Director Frank Kruppa, adding that the new department “includes much of the same roles and requirements” that two departments , previously held.
When the merger is finalized under a new department name, Kruppa’s position title will change to “Commissioner of Comprehensive Health Care.”
During the county administration update, Administrator Lisa Holmes said the county is working on the beginning stages of a strategic plan. She also said the human services building is working with a private security firm to increase building security. Sometime next month, a $100,000 grant for veterans peer-to-peer services will be on the agenda for the county to accept.
Activist Teresa Alt made a public comment in support of the Dryden House project, saying she was surprised to find that local taxes were not helping to fund the project. On the same subject, a resolution authorizing the county’s contribution of $70,000 to help finance the Dryden House project, in addition to $50,000 from the city of Dryden and $227,000 in privately raised contributions from the project’s developer, was passed unanimously.
Elliott Benman, housing and community development planner, said the project is a “four-unit permanent supportive housing project in the Village of Dryden for women and children experiencing homelessness.” The project will consist of new construction on the site of existing structures that were previously burned down.
In a quick update on the recently formed opioid task force, Legislator Dan Klein said the task force has officially formed and will soon coordinate its first meeting.
Harmony Ayers-Friedlander spoke about the need to increase early intervention providers, saying the team currently responds to “a wide range of mental health needs from adjustment issues to serious mental illness,” with a team of five psychiatric social workers, child psychiatrist, nurse and social work interns.
The program currently works with approximately 300 children, youth and families both through its clinic and through elementary, middle and high schools throughout the county.
Shifting gears slightly to discuss the recent spike in COVID cases that has led the county to adjust to a moderate level of community transmission, Legislator Veronica Pilar asked Kruppa what the current guidelines are for the community in terms of minimizing the spread and staying healthy.
Kruppa responded by saying that the increase in cases was expected and that “COVID is not going to go away.” He added that the total number of cases is quite difficult to get an accurate picture because of the self-checks that happen on a daily basis. He also said that the main reason for the increase in the level of transmission in the community was due to the higher number of hospitalizations, which have since decreased.
The district still recommends indoor masking for high-risk individuals and the elderly, and once the back-to-school vaccines drop, the district will likely begin offering COVID booster clinics again.
Code Blue also recently went into effect due to the season, and 134 adults and 33 children are already in the program, according to Keith Kephart of the Department of Human Services.