Since the Giuliani administration started floating a plan nearly a year ago to combine the city health and mental health agencies, critics have been waiting for a glimpse of what the new uber-agency would look like. Now they’re getting a sneak preview, in the form of a leaked agency document.
The document has some good news for advocates who were worried about the mental health agency being buried by the bigger health department. The budget lines for the two departments will remain separate, and the new mental hygiene division will be headed by a deputy commissioner.
The merger plan has stalled since last summer because of intense opposition from the parents of developmentally disabled children. Just last month Councilmember Una Clarke, chair of the mental health subcommittee, reopened that opposition with a letter denouncing the plan.
Clarke, a Crown Heights Democrat, wrote to her fellow council members: “We’ve all heard about DOH’s failure to conduct timely restaurant inspections, its less than outstanding lead inspection efforts, its greatly diminished commitment to the direct provision of children’s health services. For this reason DOH deserves the full attention of one leader.”
“[The department of] mental health has an excellent reputation that the department of health doesn’t enjoy,” said Phillip Saperia, executive director of the Coalition of Voluntary Mental Health Agencies.
Although the administration will need a change in the city charter to combine the agencies, some consolidation steps have already been taken. The first step: last February’s appointment of mental health commissioner Neal Cohen as the new commissioner of the Department of Health.