Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano recently announced plans to merge six county departments into two, including several that serve people with disabilities.
On June 7, the county legislature passed the plan, which will save the county $2 million annually. The change is part of the legislature’s overarching goal to reduce the $343 million deficit that the county faces this year. The merger will eliminate several management positions and vacate some office space.
The departments of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Developmental Disabilities Services, Senior Citizen Affairs, the Office of the Physically Challenged (OPC) and the Youth Board will be combined into one department, the Department of Human Services. Additional departments, including the Planning Department, will be merged into the Department of Public Works.
The OPC provides parking permits to people with disabilities, performs advocacy work and assists the county in complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for accessible accommodations. The department that serves people with developmental disabilities provides additional opportunities and services for county residents with disabilities.
Advocates for the disabled have warned that the consolidation of offices such as these could reduce the services available to people with disabilities or diminish the specialized nature of what each one provides.
Bruce Blower, former director of the Suffolk County Office of Handicapped Services, said the merger made sense from an economic perspective given financial constraints but warned of possible negative impacts.
“Anytime you merge a small department such as Physically Challenged with a huge department, which Human Services would become, you lose something and what you lose is the independence and the quick direct response to problems because once you’re a small unit inside a large bureaucracy you’ve got to go through several different levels to reach the commissioner if you ever get the item up there to take action,” he said.
Blower also said he fears that the OPC could at some point be eliminated since the county is not required to maintain it by law. “If that happens then you have no separate voice for the disabled population in Nassau County, which makes up 20 percent of the population,” he said.
Lisa Murphy, acting commissioner for the Department of Senior Citizen Affairs, will become the acting commissioner of the Human Services Department. Murphy said the merger is an opportunity to reduce segregation and promote the full integration of people with disabilities in the community.
“I think that it’s going to serve the disabled community very well because so many of the disabled fall into the categories of either the elderly or youth and I don’t think they are always made aware of all of the services that the county does provide for them not just as disabled people but as young people and old people,” Murphy said.
Katie Grilli-Robles, press secretary for Mangano’s office, said the merger will improve services to people with disabilities since a large portion of clients at the OPC are also eligible to receive services from the Senior Citizens, Youth Board or Mental Health departments.
“The Office for the Physically Challenged, for example, will have no interruption of service or impact on the way programs are delivered to persons with disabilities. In fact, resources under the umbrella of the Department of Human Services will allow for enhanced delivery of some service to the disabled community,” she said.
This article was published in the July 2011 issue of Able News.