Walla Walla County may merge two departments

The planned departure of the human services leader makes it a good time to combine it with the health department.

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WALLA WALLA - Difficult economic times call for creative solutions and Walla Walla County commissioners are checking to see if one plus one can - perhaps - equal one.

Up for consideration by the board of commissioners is a proposal to merge the county's human services and health departments, said Commissioner Perry Dozier. "While this merger will not necessarily result in dramatic financial savings immediately, it could possibly allow for some consolidation of back office staff in the future."

Currently the Walla Walla health department and the Department of Human Services serve overlapping demographics and many of their services complement the mission of the other, he added. "It is our belief that clients will see no disruption in services, and better integrated services with the proposed merger."

The idea has been talked about for several years, said Harvey Crowder, administrator for Walla Walla County Health Department. With the resignation of human services leader Daryl Daugs, combining the two agencies at this time makes sense.

There appears to be little risk in consolidation, although the community will need plenty of notification prior to anything official, Crowder pointed out in a proposal to the commissioners. As well, two organizational cultures will have to merge, and that may put stress on some employees.

The benefits, however, are longer on Crowder's list.

Services should expand while management overhead is reduced, he said. The health department's outreach and data-gathering processes will help the human service department's programs for high-risk clients, and long-term public health projects will benefit from the support of the social services half of the potential merger.

There would be a number of details to work through, Crowder and Daugs told county commissioners in a presentation, beginning with a departmental name change, location for some public health services, inventory, staffing patterns, insurance billing and more.

Some programs, such as mental health and environmental public health, would experience no changes with the pairing, the administrators said.

The two departments would be under one director, who would be aided by a health officer and administrative assistant.

The concept allows both agencies to build on each others' strengths, Crowder said. Consolidation, if approved, would begin sometime after the Aug. 31 departure of Daugs, who is leaving Walla Walla to return to his home county of Kitsap, where he will head Habitat for Humanity.

The alternative is to keep both departments status quo, which current funding would support and which continues to serve the community well, Crowder and Daugs noted in their report.

The community will have an opportunity to hear more on July 31 at 3 p.m. at the Department of Human Services in the downstairs conference room, 1520 Kelly Place.

A decision about the merger will be made soon, before establishing department budgets for 2013, commissioners said.

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