According to a May 3 story in The Columbus Dispatch, Governor John Kasich plans to merge Ohio’s Department of Mental Health (ODMH) with the state’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services (ODADAS) effective July 1, 2013, pending approval by the Ohio legislature.
The new and yet to be named agency would have a combined 2,500 employees, a budget of approximately $650 million, and be led by Tracy Plouck, the current ODMH director. Orman Hall, the current ODADAS director, reportedly would continue in a cabinet-level position reporting to Governor Kasich.
The merger plan is part of a larger effort by Ohio’s Office of Health Transformation, an office created by Kasich, to restructure Ohio’s $15.4 billion Medicaid program and streamline the delivery of health and human services. At present, these service functions are performed by a web of six state agencies. Upon completion of the merger, Ohio would join 46 other states who deliver such services through a combined agency.
The merger will affect an array of local agencies, programs and services, including 50 county boards of alcohol and drug addiction and mental health, and about 300 addiction-treatment agencies and 400 mental-health agencies.
I join with the Ohioans who are glad to see this change which, after years of relentless budget cutting to both agencies by both parties, may at last enable the combined agency to deliver somewhat more of its diminished pool of service dollars to the providers who struggle to serve two million poor, mentally ill, and drug-addicted citizens.
This step, while helpful, is just a baby step forward in Ohio's progress toward reforming health-care delivery and realizing higher quality treatment at a lower cost. Led by Governor Kasich and conservatives in Ohio's General Assembly and Attorney General's Office, Ohio is one of 26 states that sued to block the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. While the actions of state leaders are shaped by their opposition to the ACA, a vote to uphold the law would, I expect, force Ohio to play a great deal of catch-up to match the progress of states who've actually considered and worked toward implementing the ACA.