LAURINBURG – A county commissioner said he willing to explore a proposal to merge the Health and Department of Social Services boards, but doesn’t want the the plan to dilute the effectiveness of the two departments.
Commissioner Bob Davis, who chairs the board of health, said he was in favor of exploring the idea presented last week by County Manager Kevin Patterson to make the county’s Health Board and Social Services Board one entity and create a human resources manager to oversee hiring, defining job descriptions and disciplinary issues. Patterson is suggesting that he fill the position for the time being citing budget issues.
The board took no action, but set a meeting between the DSS and Health boards, the Board of Commissioner and two Professors from the UNC School of Government to learn about the different models of consolidation and steps other counties have taken.
The meeting between the boards is set for May 23 at the Emergency Operations Center at 1403 West Boulevard at 6 p.m.
Davis added that the Health Department is in good shape and hopes that the consolidation won’t change that.
“The Health Department in functioning like it should and making progress,” Davis said. “I’m sure that DSS is doing well too especially once the recommendations Mr. Maynard made are completed.”
Commissioner Betty Blue Gholston believes the new system will work better for the county and make the hiring process “more expedient,” but Gholston said she will have questions for the two professors.
“I look forward to hearing from the professors to get a better understanding of how it will work” Gholston said following the meeting. “We’ve never left from the state personnel structure and taken on the task of directing ourselves, so I want to know how they feel it would work.”
Kristen Patterson, director of the Health Department, confirmed that hiring is often delayed under the current system.
Gholston hopes the new structure will make things better for the county.
“I like the idea that everything will be kept in the county under one umbrella,” Gholston said.
Under the current system two state agents oversee either department’s ability to recruit for jobs and the duties of those jobs. The change would take that authority out of the state’s hands.
“For a lot of the personnel issues that we have to deal with including recruitment and position design, the DSS director and the health director have to go get consent from the state before they can proceed,” Patterson said told the board. “The office of State Human Resources has been reduced to the point that there’s two people that handle all the local government issues.”
Because local departments are hamstrung by the process even opening a position for recruitment takes 60 days and leaving jobs vacant while the state handles red tape puts extra strain on workers.
During the meeting Gholston and Chair Carol McCall expressed concern over Patterson taking on an extra role.
McCall worried that having Patterson fill in as human resources manager would “take him away from his other duties.”
Gholston shared that concern but expressed confidence in Patterson’s ability to adjust.
“Kevin is already overloaded with responsibilities running the county government, but if he thinks he can do it I’m willing to let him try.”
Gholston would like to make the job a separate position at some point in the future.
Davis said though the two boards will merge the health board is still mandated to fill its positions with professional members who represent the interests of sectors of the public health community such as doctors, nurses and veterinarians.
“Overall, the thing this consolidation is going to do is get us out from under the state’s personnel thumb,” said Davis. “Things will stay the same.”
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169