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Senate Hears from Stakeholders About Consolidation of State Agencies

April 13, 2017

The Pennsylvania Senate held the second of a series of hearings about the consolidation of the departments of Human Services, Health, Drug and Alcohol Programs, and Aging, this time gathering testimony from various stakeholders, including Penn State Health, St. Joseph’s President and CEO John Morahan.

The joint hearing of the Senate Aging and Youth, Appropriations, Health and Human Services, and Intergovernmental Operations Committees was held at Reading Hospital. Eight panels, consisting of health care providers, drug and alcohol programs, county commissioners, and human service providers, focused primarily on drug and alcohol and health care provider issues.

Testimony was presented in support of and in opposition to the plan. Those in support of the consolidation identified ways that agencies could eliminate duplicative services and save money. However, other stakeholders expressed opposition and echoed concerns raised in previous hearings regarding the merging of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) into one large bureaucracy. Those stakeholders adopted the position taken by others that consolidation would result in a diminished role during an opioid crisis. 

Others providing testimony could not provide a definitive position until more information was available.

The secretaries of the four agencies proposed for consolidation also attended. At the conclusion of the hearing, Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, gave the secretaries the opportunity to comment on stakeholder testimony. 

Department of Drug and Alcohol Secretary Jennifer Smith noted there was a common mission to work together as partners and ensure the system works the best way that it can. Secretary of the Department of Human Services Ted Dallas added that even those opposed to the consolidation provided ways to improve services and “be better.”

Physician General Rachel Levine addressed the concern about DDAP and indicated that the intent is not to “silence the voice” or “diminish the role” of the department, but to integrate mental health and drug and alcohol services to address increasing co-occurring disorders and break down silos.

Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks), minority chair, Senate Health and Human Services Committee, intends to introduce the enabling legislation to consolidate agencies. She indicated the legislation will be introduced in the near future.

In closing, Senator Baker noted the next hearing will be held May 1, in Pittsburgh, and will primarily focus on how the consolidation will affect delivery of services to children and youth and the aging population.

HAP will continue to monitor the hearings about this important matter. For additional information, contact Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice president, legislative advocacy.

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