TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY—The new Whole Health Department is just one public hearing away from formal establishment, and that public hearing will be scheduled for early November.
Although the merger between the Public Health Department and the County Mental Health Department was approved by the Tompkins County Legislature in 2019, it was sidelined by COVID-19. It got back on track earlier this year and is nearing completion, and the resolution authorizing a public hearing to effect the merger passed unanimously at the Legislative Health Committee meeting. and social services on October 17. (The meeting can be viewed here, and the agenda can be found here.)
“This is the formal process of merging the two departments, and it creates a new department of comprehensive health,” said Director of Public Health Frank Kruppa, adding that the new department “includes many of the same roles. and requirements” that the two departments previously occupied.
When the merger is finalized under the new single department name, Kruppa’s job title will change to “Global Health Commissioner.”
During the county administration update, Administrator Lisa Holmes said the county is working on the first steps of a strategic plan. She also said the Human Services Building was working with a private security company to increase building security. Next month, a $100,000 grant for peer-to-peer veteran services will be on the agenda for acceptance by the county.
Activist Theresa Alt made a public comment in support of the Dryden House project, saying she was surprised to find that local taxes are not helping to fund the project. On the same subject, a resolution was passed unanimously authorizing the County’s contribution of $70,000 to help fund the Dryden House project, in addition to $50,000 from the City of Dryden and $227,000 from private contributions from the project promoter.
Eliot Benman, housing and community development planner, said the project is a “four unit permanent supportive housing project in the village of Dryden for homeless women and children”. The project will consist of new construction on the site of existing structures that had previously burned down.
In a quick update on the recently created Opioid Task Force, lawmaker Dan Klein said the task force has been formally formed and will coordinate its first meeting shortly.
Harmony Ayers-Friedlander spoke of the need to increase the number of early intervention providers, saying the team currently responds to a “wide range of mental health needs, from adjustment issues to serious mental illnesses”, with a team of five psychiatric social workers, a child psychiatrist, nurse practitioner and social work interns.
The program currently works with approximately 300 children, youth and families through its clinic and elementary, middle and high schools across the county.
Shifting gears slightly, to discuss the recent spike in COVID cases that caused the county to adjust to a moderate level of community transmission, Legislator Veronica Pillar asked Kruppa what the community’s current guidelines are regarding is about minimizing the spread and maintaining good health.
Kruppa responded by saying the rise in cases was expected and that “COVID is not going away.” He added that it is rather difficult to get an accurate picture of the total number of cases due to the self-tests that occur daily. Additionally, he said the main reason for the increased level of community transmission was due to the higher number of hospitalizations, which have since declined.
The county still recommends indoor masking for those at high risk and the elderly, and once back-to-school vaccines are phased out, the county will likely start offering COVID booster clinics again.
Code Blue also recently came back into effect due to the season, and 134 adults and 33 children are already enrolled in the program, according to Kit Kephart of the Department of Social Services.
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