ITHACA, N.Y.—The long-awaited merger between the county’s Public Health Department and Mental Health Department will continue as planned, according to current Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. Kruppa is slated to lead the new, unified department.

The county has been working toward merging the departments since 2019. The merger had been delayed as COVID took priority, but as the infection rate stays relatively low, other projects are returning to the forefront.

The merger will streamline care for patients who visit both facilities, including the utilization of electronic health records, which is a service the departments have already been using, according to Kruppa.

During the Feb. 16 Health and Human Services Committee meeting, Kruppa said that the merger had initially been approved in December 2019 with an 18-month timeline, and quite a bit of back-office administrative work had been completed. The behind-the-scenes work on the merger had been accelerated because of a retirement incentive in 2020 which allowed restructuring to happen, a process he said had gone very well.

The merged health department now has a fiscal reporter, Jeremy Porter, hired a fiscal manager and also has a billing coordinator. “Our HR is now centralized for both units which has really created an opportunity for us to be more consistent while we continue to do the day-to-day paperwork that needs to be done,” Kruppa said.

The next steps in the merger process are to expand the mental health webpage, integrate services to provide additional efficiency and identify a branding team to come up with a new name and logo. Kruppa said local professionals and stakeholders will be looped in on the process and that applications for a branding team will be looked through this week.

Though the initial timeline goal for the merger had been 18 months, Kruppa said that some changes will be met by the end of 2022 and the full strategic plan for the merger will be completed over the next three to five years.

Additional resolutions discussed in the meeting was the Safe Harbour program, a partnership program with the Advocacy Center focused on helping youths who have experienced or are at risk of sex trafficking. Director of Youth Services Kate Shanks-Booth noted that typically after five years of having the program a county would be considered “graduated,” thus not receiving future funding for it. The Department of Social Services had gotten word that despite passing the five-year mark, it had been approved for continued funding.

The budget adjustment resolution for the Safe Harbour funds to be released was passed unanimously.

The Office of the Aging received a budget adjustment passed unanimously to carry over funds from 2021 into this year for the Parkinson’s Disease Project Pause. The program had been paused during winter break when college students working on the project were home, but has now resumed.

An update was also given regarding Northside residents who were concerned about stable housing during the construction of new units on Third, Fourth and Fifth Streets downtown, part of an affordable housing expansion project. As it stands, 16 households have been addressed: eight families have been rehoused, four of them becoming homeowners, and eight are awaiting rehousing.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...