Butler County mental health, addiction boards merge

The merger of the Butler County Mental Health Board and Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board will benefit their combined 14,000 clients, according to officials.

The county commissioners in March approved the merger and both entities have been working feverishly since to finalize how a combined agency will function. The new name is the Butler County County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board. Scott Rasmus, who headed the mental health agency, is now the executive director and Julie Payton, who ran ADAS, is senior director of alcohol and drug addiction services. There is a new 18-member board with nine members from each of the previous boards.

Rasmus said the combined board will be a great asset to the clients they will now serve together.

“More than anything when you take the expertise of the staff of these two boards and you bring them together on a day-to-day basis, to discuss issues in not only mental health but addiction issues in the county, there is quite a benefit from that,” he said. “There is no siloing. We are working together, we can share knowledge, we can brainstorm things together.”

Before the merger, the mental health board’s budget for 2015 was set at $12.6 million, there are eight staffers and an 18-member board. The board’s funding comes largely from two tax levies and state and federal funding that continues to shrink. The bulk of the budget is spent paying external mental health professionals. They served about 10,000 clients last year.

The ADAS Board’s 2015 budget is $3.7 million, there are five staffers and a 14-member board. The bulk of their revenue comes from state and federal funding, and like the mental health board, professional services is their largest expense. The board helped 3,021 people last year.

In preparation of the potential merger, the ADAS board did not replace Executive Director John Bohley when he retired last fall. His salary was $97,318. Since the ADAS board will be moving out of their offices in downtown Hamilton and into the mental health offices in Fairfield at the end of July, an additional $57,179 will be saved, based on what was budgeted for rent, supplies and other expenses for the ADAS board this year.

When the merger was announced officials said the move will produce cost savings but that was not the motivating reason.

“Cost savings will occur, but they are secondary to the benefits that enhanced coordination of treatment services will provide to county residents,” said Mental Health Board President Barbara Desmond.

After studying the language of the two mental health levies, Rasmus said they determined those monies cannot be used for any ADAS services or clients.

“It’s not that we don’t need or want those funds for addiction services, because we would like to have additional funding after all the cuts we’ve experienced,” Payton said. “But that levy that has previously been passed was not specified to fund addiction services at this time.”

One of the mental health levies just passed handily in November, but both boards have seen burgeoning numbers of people seeking help and deep cuts from the federal and state governments.

The demand for mental health services has grown exponentially. Clientele shot up from 5,271 in 2006 to 9,770 in 2013. Meanwhile, state funding dropped from $4.3 million annually between 2007 and 2011 to a projected $860,043 in funding this year.

The heroin epidemic has also taken a stranglehold on the county, affecting everything from the jail to Children Services. State and federal funding has dropped from $6 million in 2011 to $3.7 million projected for this year at the ADAS board.

Rhonda Benson, executive director of the local National Alliance on Mental Illness, said since many people who suffer mental illnesses self medicate with alcohol or drugs and addiction is now known to be a brain disorder, marrying the two agencies will make for a stronger, more effective way to treat people.

“I think it’s a good move,” she said. “There is so much cross-over and the truth is, although very few people really understand this, addiction is a brain disorder, it affects the brain in ways we are really now just beginning to understand. So I think to put these two things together only makes sense.”

The state merged its mental health and addiction services in July 2013, and now every county in the state has followed suit, with the exception of Lorain County, which maintains separate boards, according to Eric R. Wandersleben, director of Media Relations & Outreach for the state agency. Combining “back office” functions such as human resources, information technology and finance management has saved $3 million. The savings has been funneled back to communities — Butler County was one — to help pay for mental health and addiction services for non-violent criminal offenders. He said merging just makes sense.

“Both addiction and mental illness are diseases of the brain that can be treated successfully, so it makes sense that services for Ohioans with these illnesses are coordinated,” Wandersleben said. “Through consolidation, we’ve established a cost-effective system of prevention, treatment and recovery support services with no wrong doors, shared resources and combined expertise.”

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