In defense of human services proposal

In response to Gary Stout’s Sept. 18 op-ed, “Making sense of county government initiatives,” Mr. Stout has chosen to “attempt to explain” Washington County’s proposed Human Services Department.

This is one of the best examples of how absolutely divided we are in this country. I understand that politically we are on opposing sides; however, now we have the Washington County Democrats saying that creating a Human Service Department to aid the underprivileged in the county is a bad idea. Instead of praising a Republican commissioner for recognizing shortcomings and trying to help people, you vilify attempts to fix a problem. I think the better question is why the past Democrat administrations have not been able to get this accomplished.

A recent salary board meeting vote to create the department was not a “bipartisan decision,” as Mr. Stout claims. Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan and I supported the move while Democrat Commissioner Larry Maggi and Controller Michael Namie voted to table the move for further consideration. They did have several issues that are currently being researched and will be addressed at a future meeting.

What I found most inaccurate and appalling is his reference to the late District Attorney Gene Vittone. I worked with Gene for over a decade on various issues of human services, from drug and alcohol, domestic violence, and a top to bottom overhaul of victim services. He and I were working diligently to make sure this human service model was a success. When he says, “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it,” maybe he needs to have a conversation with parents who lost a child to opioids.

I have worked in the human services field for nearly 20 years and know the critical role it plays in individual lives and the community. Simply put, we need a single point of contact to administer, coordinate, plan and oversee all human services departments and programs in Washington County.

The human services model is not about adding jobs to the payroll, but using these positions wisely to streamline a broken system. The department has the responsibility to oversee the coordination of the human services system through elimination of service duplication as well as the improvement and development of new services. The department works closely with the private nonprofit sector to maximize community resources through effective use of multiple sources of available funding.

Coordinated under the Human Services Department are Aging Services; Children and Youth Services; Child Care Information Services; Behavioral Health and Developmental Services; Assistance Programs; Food; Transportation; Homelessness; and Housing.

One program change under the department has been to our food pantries. As a growing number of our neighbors struggle with food insecurity, the commissioners established a new relationship with Greater Pittsburgh Area Community Food Bank. As the steward of state and federal funding that helps to feed local families, the county’s goal is to ensure the most efficient, accessible, nutritious distribution plan is implemented. We are pleased that Greater Pittsburgh Community Area Food Bank, which serves 11 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania, have taken steps to fill the gaps in the county’s food pantry network, providing fresh and easily accessible food to more Washington County families.

Human services also addresses the issue of elder care. I was horrified to see the food we were serving our seniors at our county run facilities. I had the opportunity to eat in both our prison and senior centers and found that our prisoners were being provided a better meal. A new food service provider has been selected and it has been a positive change. Under our new Republican majority, we now have freshly made nutritious meals daily that I would be proud to serve anyone.

Along with our Aging Department, the Human Services Department needs to navigate services proactively between Children and Youth and Drug and Alcohol. This will address the issue of our older population being forced to raise young grandchildren because their parents were lost in the opioid crisis. Without a single point of entry, these human services resources will continue to be overlooked.

Mr. Stout, Democrat opponents, and past Commissioners, I ask, why now? Where was your outcry over the past 10 years when this population was underserved? How many more young adults in this county need to die before we address this issue? How many children will have to spend the holidays without parents before we act?

Sadly, I am well aware of how divided we are as a country at this time. This is no time to take a partisan shot on an issue that should have no political gamesmanship – human services.

Nick Sherman

Washington County commissioner