Last updated: October 28. 2013 11:37PM - 3916 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton announced Monday he has hired a consulting team of experts to temporarily oversee human service branches and identify ways to eliminate duplication and maximize services.

These branches — Children and Youth, Aging, Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol — spend around $92 million annually, he said.

Around $8 million comes from local tax dollars, but the lion’s share of $84 million is funded by the state and federal government.

Lawton said he wants feedback on the structure and operations of these departments before filling several top management positions.

“This team will provide leadership and also focus on how we can streamline and consolidate entities within human services,” he said.

Interim Human Services Division Head Mary Dysleski switched to a job overseeing deeds and wills this month, and Frank Castano recently resigned as Children and Youth Director for a school district job. Former Mental Health and Developmental Services head Richard Burns and former Drug and Alcohol Director Mike Donahue resigned around the start of the year.

The consulting team will consist of:

• Richard Gold, former deputy secretary for the state Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Children Youth and Families.

• Estelle Richman, former state Secretary of Public Welfare and former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

• Nancy Lucas, former chief executive officer of Philadelphia’s Behavioral Health Managed Care system.

• Michael Covone, former deputy commissioner for Philadelphia’s Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities programs.

Gold is familiar to some county officials and staff because he visited the county monthly several years ago after a judicial corruption scandal involving high numbers of juvenile delinquents sent to outside placement. In 2010, Gold praised the county for reducing the number of placements.

The consultants will each be paid $100 an hour for up to 240 hours through Jan. 28 with no health insurance or benefits, Lawton said.

The payments will be funded by money that had been budgeted for the unfilled management positions, Lawton said. He stressed that more than 90 percent of human services funding comes from the state and federal government and can’t be used for county general fund operating budget expenses.

Lawton told council in an email Monday the goal is to create a “one-door process” providing human service programs aimed at making vulnerable citizens more self-sufficient.

By reducing overhead, more limited funding can be invested in services, Lawton said. The team also will evaluate services to ensure the county is utilizing programs with proven track records, he said.

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