ATLANTA (November 20, 2008) – Co-chairpersons Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and Representative Mark Butler (R-Carrollton) led a joint Legislative Public Hearing today at the State Capitol to address the current status of the Department of Human Resources (DHR) restructuring efforts.  The reorganization would create three separate departments reporting directly to the Governor:  the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, and the Department of Behavioral Health.

“We are working hand-in-hand with the Governor’s office to develop an organization of state services that are efficient, seamless, and ultimately are the best way to serve Georgians,” said Sen. Unterman.  “We must maintain our commitment on making client service the number one priority and not to restructure for the sake of doing so.  With every decision we undertake throughout this process we must stop and consider, ‘Is this going to be fiscally responsible and will it help or harm the client?”

“The restructuring of DHR has been talked about for years.  Now is the time to move forward, although it comes while we face a tremendous budget deficit,” said Rep. Butler.  “As we begin the monumental task of dividing this huge department, I anticipate we’ll find ways to create greater efficiencies in services provided.  Most importantly, patients will receive higher quality of care and improved health outcomes.  The elimination of duplicate services will result in significant savings for the state. Obviously, this establishes a win-win for patients and taxpayers.”

The panel heard testimony from several agency officials on the overview of the departmental changes and the effect it would have on their individual clients and services.  State of Georgia Chief Operating Officer Jim Lientz presented the new Georgia Health and Human Services administrative structure, which would create a comprehensive health department reporting directly to the governor’s office.  The new Behavioral Health Department would be created as a separate entity with a coordinating council that would be composed of several state agencies.  Lientz mentioned the focus of these new departments would be to streamline efforts to effectively coordinate the state’s public health system.  DHR would be renamed the Department of Human Services under the proposed re-organization and continue to operate the state’s welfare and child support services.

The committee was briefed on the implications of this new agency structure as how it would impact mental health and public health functions and heard public comments from interested parties in attendance.  Most speakers gave their support of the proposal and encouraged legislative action for this coming session.

The joint legislative panel plans to use their study committee findings to take up this restructuring issue when the 2009 Legislative Session begins January 12.

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