Tompkins County Health Department

Now that Tompkins County is moving past COVID, it is finally ready to integrate its public health and mental health departments, as was proposed in a 2019 report.

The Tompkins County Public Health Department and the Mental Health Department jointly released the report that identified areas where the two departments could be improved and outlined a plan to integrate both departments into one cohesive unit in order to streamline operations and make government more efficient.

The county was originally given 18 months to complete the merger. So had everything gone to plan, the public and mental health departments would have completed their integration process by the middle of 2021. “But obviously COVID got in the way of that,” said Public Health Director at Tompkins County Health Department, Frank Kruppa.

 “We were set to launch in 2020,” Kruppa notes. “We actually had an all-staff meeting in December of 2019 that was our launching point for the merger process. And then, of course, in January 2020 COVID began and things got a little bit off track.”

The plan to integrate the two departments into one unit is intended to improve the quality of care for patients who visit both departments and reduce bureaucratic redundancies and make it easier for the departments to share electronic health records.

“Before we were using two smaller units that had the same strength of knowledge, skills, and abilities that this new larger unit has using the same number of people,” said Kruppa. “We've been able to strengthen our ability to support the work of our professionals and the department and do it with the same resources.”

Even though the pandemic has delayed the integration process, it didn't stop everything. Kruppa said that “even though the county had to prioritize dealing with COVID, the mental health department was still able to convert to telemedicine because we felt it was important to get that plan in place.”

The next step in the integration process is reforming the county charter.

The county charter establishes the Public Health and Mental Health Departments as two separate departments, and it will need to be updated to create a single department that performs the functions of the prior two. Tompkins County is in the review process of that right now and expects that the new draft charter language will go to the legislature for their review and approval in October.

According to Kruppa, “our goal is that by January 1, 2023, we will have that new department established in the charter, there will be updated bylaws for a Development Services Board, and an advisor will be established as a formal position.”

Kruppa also said that the Tompkins County Public Health and Mental Health Departments are already in the process of merging their administrative functions together. “Our back-office things like budget and state aid and contracts, and purchasing are places where we saw that we could see some of the most immediate efficiencies, because having smaller units in two departments limited the scope of what they were able to do and certainly limited our redundancies.”

The Public Health and Mental Health Departments are also looking at how to build their programming so that they can have the biggest impact with all of the services that they provide for each individual. Kruppa recently said, “that's our ultimate goal, and we're building towards making everyone aware of all of the services that our Department provides.”

According to Kruppa, “When the County Administrator offered the report to the legislature, he was pretty clear that it wasn't to be looked at as a cost measure.” He continued saying, “For us, our goal was focused on our services, and we wanted to be able to provide the most comprehensive service.”

Kruppa says that Tompkins County Health Department “hopes that anyone who seeks our services will not only get what they think they need, but if they discover that we have something else that might be beneficial to them, and that we will be able to quickly, efficiently, and effectively get them connected to those additional services.”

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