Clackamas County to overhaul social services

Clackamas County Commissioners Peterson, Kennemer and Schrader

Clackamas County Commissioners Peterson, Kennemer and Schrader

From the Oregonian, November 27 2008

Some programs to help needy and people with disabilities may see cuts

Clackamas County plans to reorganize — and in some cases possibly reduce — delivery of social services to aid the needy, disabled and infirm.

Under the plan, the county would contract out more services to nonprofits or transfer responsibility for them to the state.

The Clackamas County commissioners approved a timeline Tuesday they will use for the next three years to work out specifics. The overhaul affects the 500-employee Department of Human Services, the county’s largest department.

It’s too soon to say exactly which programs will be changed, but those potentially affected provide mental and medical health care to the poor, job training for the unemployed and assistance to the elderly, families and people with disabilities.

Falling revenues, rising costs and growing demand for services make changes in social services inevitable, said Cindy Becker, director of Human Services.

“The original goal was to maintain the quality of service,” she said, describing a study recently completed to help the county figure out how to do more with less money for social services.

But with the economy declining, the county likely will be unable to maintain the level of services it now provides, she said. “So we have to do the best with what we have.”

Mike Bowen, president of the Clackamas County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said he’s “extremely worried and concerned” about the plan. “When Multnomah County tried this, it resulted in a lower level of services,” Bowen said.

County workers plan to meet with service providers, businesses and interest groups before making the changes.

OUR COMMENT – Ten years ago, Clackamas County had a well-regarded service system for persons with mental illness, amiable leadership and stable staff. They achieved it by NOT funding housing, hospitalization, outreach services, or shelter for homeless persons, which caused people with high needs and costs to migrate to Multnomah County. This “Greyhound” policy undermined efforts for change. Now, the Commission’s waffling the the Columbia Care project, an absence of any social services from the Commission’s Goals and Priorities list, matched with cuts from the state, the outlook for service improvement in Clackamas County is poor.