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February 24, 2003

Agencies eliminated, offices closed as part of restructuring plan

From:, MA - 24 Feb 2003

By Jennifer Peter, Associated Press,

BOSTON (AP) Two agencies and 30 of the state's 150 local health and human service offices would be eliminated under a restructuring proposal announced Monday by Gov. Mitt Romney as part of an effort to make the ''maze'' of bureaucracy more user-friendly and efficient.

Romney estimated his latest streamlining initiative would save the state at least $60 million annually while more closely coordinating services for citizens who receive assistance from more than one of the state's 15 health and human service agencies.

Under Romney's plan, clients would be able to access several different offices through one local office, rather than traveling from place to place. The agencies would also be divvied up between four different sectors, dedicated to similar areas of care.

''The overarching goal is to ensure not just economic rationalization and streamlining, but to ensure that our citizens who need support and help are able to get that support more easily,'' the new Republican governor said.

''The bureaucracy will be simpler to navigate and at the same time we think we will be able to save a significant degree of time and money for state employees and, of course, the taxpayers,'' he said.

The proposed restructuring of Health and Human Services, which swallows about half of the state budget each year, is the latest in a series of reorganization initiatives announced by Romney in advance of his much-anticipated 2004 budget presentation, planned for Wednesday.

Romney will discuss his efforts to close an estimated $3.2 billion budget deficit in a State of the State address Tuesday afternoon. The plan will include additional cuts to health and human service programs, Romney said Monday.

Representatives of the poor and disabled, who have in the past fiercely protected the autonomy of the individual health and human service agencies, greeted Romney's restructuring plan with caution.

''We're not automatic naysayers when it comes to reorganization,'' said Stephen Collins, executive director of the Massachusetts Human Services Coalition. ''But for us it comes down to the bottom line: Are we trying to squeeze money out of the system or to create a better system?''

Past leaders have tried to reorganize the mammoth Health and Human Services agency in the past, most recently in 1995, with little success.

Under the current system, the state provides services to poor, disabled, mentally ill, mentally retarded, abused, blind, and deaf citizens through 15 independent agencies that have their own lawyers, investigators, technology specialists, and case managers.

Workers from one agency, Romney and his advisers said, are often unaware of services that a client is receiving from the other agencies.

Under Romney's plan, the agencies' administrative functions would be consolidated in the office of the secretary. Instead of going to several different agencies for help, citizens would be able to go the local office of one agency and make contact with caseworkers who will help them access the care they need to get from other human service agencies.

The Department of Medical Assistance, which oversees the state's Medicaid program for the poor and disabled, and the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy would be disbanded with their functions distributed to other agencies.

The Executive Office of Elder Affairs, which was previously separate from Health and Human Services, will be folded into the agency. The Secretary of Elder Affairs will, however, remain a cabinet position.

Underutilized local offices would be closed, and the services housed there transferred to other offices. Romney's staff has not yet released a list of the offices that will close.

Selling these properties will give the state a one-time infusion of $30 million next year, on top of the $60 million carved out of Health and Human Services' $10 billion budget, Romney said.

Sen. Susan Tucker, D-Andover, co-leader of the legislative Committee on Human Services and Elderly Affairs, said that reorganization is long overdue.

''I've been singing this song for two years,'' Tucker said. ''We need a customer-based system and we need to get better from every human service dollar spent.''

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