ITHACA, N.Y. — The various health care services available to Tompkins County residents could become a lot easier to access and navigate.

The county legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted to recommend Tompkins County take the first steps toward a merged leadership structure for the County’s Public Health and Mental Health Departments. Having heard from a task force exploring consolidating the leadership of the two departments earlier this week, the committee moved the recommendation by a 3-1 vote.

The decision to merge the departments, before the full legisalture on Dec. 17, would authorize County Administrator Jason Molino to devise and implement a plan that would see the two organizations carry out their individual responsibilities as a single department by mid-2021, lead by County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. The merged organization would replace the two departments, which Kruppa has effectively been leading since 2016.

“One department will best meet the needs of the clients, staff and community as public health and mental health will function not just as opportunistic collaborating partners, but will be working side-by-side to support progress toward achieving one single vision, and that as a single department, staff members will operate under a shared vision to support clients in achieving better health-related outcomes, be it mental or physical, both at the individual and community level,” reads the resolution.

Committee Chair Shawna Black, Legislators Henry Granison and Anna Kelles voted in favor of the recommendation while Legislator Dan Klein voted against.

Klein, dissatisfied with the balance of opinion and hard information about the process in the task force’s report, believes the county should hold off until the next steps are more clearly defined.

Klien also questioned why, if two departments were being merged, would the new department end up costing the county more money than the two departments operating separately.

Chair Black, who also served as a member of the task force, believes that providing that increased access and putting mental health services at the forefront is a priority for her.

According to Molino, the increased cost would be attributable to more use of services due to increased ease of access for patients.

“Do we, as a group, feel that this is the right thing to do, independent of whether we have all the answers?” said Legislator Anna Kelles. “Do we think the care that we will be providing will be superior? If so, we need to decide, do we want to make the investment in this.”

The measure will be before the legislature on Dec. 17.

The task force’s full report can be found here.