A major development in the field of Cuyahoga County health and human services took place at the August 3, 2016, meeting of the Cuyahoga County Council Health, Human Services and Aging Committee.
For the past five years, Councilman Dale Miller has brainstormed how to get the county to strategize, plan, and create a vision for delivering health and human services to county residents. The County Charter mandates that the county actively be engaged in health and human services as it carries “responsibility for the protection and enhancement of the health, education and well‐being of County residents.” The Charter does not, however, stipulate the why or the how. Councilman Dale Miller sought to begin the question of “why,” as he presented an ordinance that will establish a new section to the Cuyahoga County Code. The new ordinance, Section 202.10, will mandate that the county executive create a five-year plan for health and human services. The plan is seen as a framework of the strategic direction of the Health and Human Services Department over the next five years. It is not an exact layout of the programs, policies, and procedures that are undertaken in each division; rather it is an effort to make sure that anything that is done at the division level fits into a framework of the general direction of the County Health and Human Services Department. The language for the initial draft of the ordinance has been created with the input of County Council President Dan Brady, Vice President Pernel Jones Jr., Councilman Jack Schron, Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell, as well as members of the administration.
The first Cuyahoga County Health and Human Services Plan will be submitted to County Council by July, 2017. The council will have 90 days to review the document and suggest any changes. The administration and a majority of County Council must agree to any changes that are made to the five-year plan. The 90 days are a critical timeframe for members of the general public to examine the plan, digest the information, and advocate for any changes that may be necessary. The ordinance makes a point of emphasizing the importance of citizen input, as the goal of the HHS plan ordinance is not just to be efficient in costs, but rather (and more importantly) maintaining and/or improving services to residents. If the Council does not approve the submitted plan within 90 days, it automatically becomes effective.
Both the administration and the council, to ensure that the programs and decisions that are being made are in line with the agreed-to overall direction of County Health and Human Services, will consistently monitor the five-year Health and Human Services Plan. Another critical component of this new five-year plan means that the individual divisions may still go through a strategic planning process for its individual office, however, the results of those strategic plans are to be completed by the end of the year and submitted to the director’s office to assemble into the overall five-year plan.
Council also mandated that a report be generated every four years, so that they may be able to see how well the county is adhering to the goals of the five-year plan. In that review, council asked that the administration identify any cost savings that may have been generated by the plan, including increased collaboration and efficiency, as well as keeping in mind a goal of preserving institutional memory so that future councils may see how the plan has or has not successfully guided the work of the Health and Human Services Department.
In his testimony before the council, Tom Pristow, director of Cuyahoga County’s Department of Health and Human Services, said that the creation of a plan is not meant to interfere with the budgetary process and program funding for each division, but rather as a guide for the programs themselves into an overall direction of the department. Councilman Schron suggested that Director Pristow seize this opportunity to create a plan that is visionary and aspirational. He is concerned that the county will just be looking at the plan as a measuring stick and not a motivational tool to aspire. Director Pristow said that he would definitely keep that in mind, but that measurement was an important barometer to track where things are and where they are headed.
Councilwoman Shontel Brown asked the director about what she should say to residents when they feel the decisions of Health and Human Services do not necessarily align with better delivery of services for residents. She used the future closure of the Cuyahoga County Neighborhood Family Service Center at Southgate as an example. She said that even though the decision was to try and ensure more agencies are in closer proximity to each other, it is difficult to reconcile that if it is more difficult for county residents to access those services. Councilwoman Conwell agreed, saying that the potential financial and service shortfalls facing RTA make the importance of ensuring accessibility to county services even more vital. Director Pristow said that he understands the frustration that citizens feel about some of the decisions that had been made in the past and how they were communicated to residents, saying, “We could’ve done better than what we did.” He vowed that, moving forward, he will communicate more with council and county residents to ensure that they are aware of the overall direction of HHS, as well as the impact of decisions that are made, so that “there is a process in place and we are more transparent.”
Councilman Miller said that he understood that no matter how good the services, if people can’t get to the services, then the value is diminished. Director Pristow agreed with the committee members, adding, “We have to have a roadmap of where we are going. How we get there is a different story.”
The Cuyahoga Council Health, Human Services and Aging Committee voted to pass the ordinance out of committee to the full council, for second reading, at the August 9, 2016 meeting.
To read the ordinance language, click here.