Genia has dealt with South Carolinas Mental Health Department for over 30 years. In that time, she’s almost always found staff members from the agency willing to help her deal with the issues and challenges she faced.
They would not have allowed me to be myself, Florence resident said Tuesday. No matter what their confessions, everyone needs someone to talk with.
Timmons’ comments at Columbia’s legislative hearing were one of many concerns raised by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control about plans to dissolve it.
The goal of the effort to dismantle DHEC, a multi-tasking agency, is to improve environmental and health protection. According to the proposal, the state Department of Mental Health which helped Timmons would be merged into a larger agency that includes DHECs Health Division. The agency would also have an environmental division of DHECs.
The new agency would be twice as large as the current Department of Mental Health. Critics informed the Ways and Means Committee panel of their concerns that the new agency would be twice as large as the current Department of Mental Health. This would make it more difficult for people to access the services they are used to. Many claimed that the bill was too fast-approved by the state Senate, which passed it without much discussion.
It’s not going to work,” said Darren E. Rogers Sr. (a member of the Lexington County mental health department local board). As a Lexington County businessman, I can tell you that it doesn’t take common sense to figure these things out. However, common sense isn’t something that grows on everyone’s bush.
Please don’t consider this. Please don’t accept this.
Despite the outcry the Ways and Means subcommittee approved the measure’s transfer to the full committee. The criticism may have been enough to raise enough questions to kill it before the Legislature adjourns for this year.
The dissolution of a major agency
There are still eight days in the legislative session so there is plenty of work to be done on the bill, said Rep. Gilda Hunter, a Democrat from Orangeburg, who chairs the subcommittee.
To move something of this scale right now is not prudent, she stated, noting that questions remained after the two hour meeting. This kind of change can’t be achieved in such a short time without affecting services.
Tuesday’s bill was amended by her subcommittee. The amendment calls for the creation of separate environmental and health agencies. Mental health should be moved under the health agency. The amendment adds details to the complex task of dissolving existing agencies and forming new ones. It also relies on committees and assistance from the S.C. Department of Administration. It also delays by two years the effective date of the dissolution, which will be in 2024.
The full committee must now discuss questions and propose changes to the bill. The House must then vote on the measure. Gov. Henry McMaster would also need to sign the bill.
Tuesday’s DHEC proposal was discussed by agency directors. They said that it wasn’t their job to decide if the split is a good idea. Edward Simmer, director at DHEC, stated that it is sensible to place the mental health division in a new large-health agency.
He stated that we are convinced that bringing together public health, mental and substance abuse in one agency will improve the health of South Carolinians throughout the state. This will allow for more efficient approaches to serious crises and ultimately lead to better outcomes.
DHEC is the only department in the country that combines health and environmental services under one roof. Critics claim that this means that the agency has not been able to adequately respond to major health and environmental challenges. It is a long-standing complaint which has led to many unsuccessful attempts to create a separate department for environmental and health.
Among the problems that haunt DHEC is its failure to address long-standing threats that small communities face when it comes to drinking water. This includes a neighborhood in Columbia that waited for 20 years to get safe drinking water. The State reported that while many small drinking water systems have long been in violation of safe drinking water laws, fines have been low and the problems have lingered.
Critics also attacked the agency for not releasing information quickly that could have helped people understand where outbreaks were taking place during the coronavirus epidemic in 2020. The pandemic saw the departing director of the departments leave, and the board didn’t find a permanent chief for months. Instead, an interim director was appointed. Under Simmers’ leadership, the agency fought the coronavirus pandemic more aggressively.
How would a DHEC be broken up?
This year, the powerful led by Sen. Harvey Peeler,A Cherokee County Republican, whose family owned a well known dairy, pushed the legislation through all committees quickly and was eventually approved.
But environmentalists as well as health care advocates were disappointed that they weren’t given the opportunity to speak at Senate hearings. The House expressed appreciation Tuesday for giving them a full hearing.
Peelers’ plan would see the DHECs environmental department become its own agency and answer directly to the governor, rather than an appointed board. The Department of Agriculture would take some of the DHEC’s environmental duties. Other duties from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, including water research, would go to DHEC.
The DHEC’s health side, which has more than 2,000 employees, would be merged with the S.C. Department of Mental Health and Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. The new department would also have about 6,000 employees.
Many support the idea of separating DHECs environment and health, but the proposal to create a large health agency that covers mental health is a different matter. According to estimates, it could cost $18million upfront to dismantle the agency.
You are creating a mega-department,” said Bill Lindsey before the meeting. He is president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (South Carolina). This is unacceptable to me.
Environmentalists have also called for caution. John Tynan (director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina) stated that environmental protection oversight is still a concern.
The plan shifts some duties away from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to DHEC. Critics say that this could lead to the loss of healthy checks and balances between these agencies. The restructuring would also result in the board being disbanded, which could lead to concerns about the right to appeal environmental permits to DHEC boards.
Tuesday’s hearing saw the S.C. Farm Bureau as the only group to support DHEC being split. A representative from the agency stated that he needed to learn more about the amendment.
The Farm Bureau wants states to have oversight over water that farmers need to irrigate. This should be done from one agency instead of two. The Farm Bureau is a proponent of less regulation for farms that need to grow food crops for people’s tables.
Harry Ott, president of Bureau, stated that Farm Bureau and the agricultural community are concerned about the need for water to be located under one agency. DNR does another part, while DHEC is doing part. Of course, they don’t always agree.
Ott stated that we need a one stop shop.
This story was originally published in April 26, 2022, 9:12 PM
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