County to create new department for mental health programs

Jackie Henderson named as chief

Island County government will go through a bit of remodeling once the 2008 budget is put into action.

Beyond pulling the parks department into the county’s planning department, county commissioners have also decided to create a new department to handle programs that will be funded by this year’s passage of the county’s mental health initiative.

Earlier this year, commissioners voted to increase the sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent. The new sales tax will take effect Jan. 1, and is expected to bring in nearly $900,000 annually.

County Commissioner Phil Bakke said the county will create a new department to handle mental health programs and other activities that will be paid for by the sales tax increase.

Jackie Henderson, the director of human services for the Island County Public Health Department, will lead the new department.

“I’m excited, and nervous,” Henderson said. “It’s a huge responsibility.”

“I feel very honored that the commissioners have the confidence in me and my staff to do this,” she said.

Henderson has worked for the county for about 25 years. She has been the health department’s director of human services for several years now, and manages programs that provide services for people with developmental disabilities, as well as the county’s programs on substance abuse and tobacco prevention.

Henderson said she is putting together a transition plan and timeline for the new department, which has yet to be named.

The transition plan is expected to be finished by early next year, and funding for the department from the new sales tax increase will start coming in March.

Potential changes include an expansion of the juvenile and adult drug court programs.

“We won’t be able to start everything at once,” Henderson said. “We’ll know more by January.”

Bakke said Henderson was the right person to lead the new department.

“I believe in Island County that we are confronting issues surrounding health and human services on a daily basis and that Jackie has demonstrated herself to be a highly capable leader in that area,” Bakke said.

The creation of a new department also means expanded visibility for the county’s mental health programs.

“Being a department head means you become integrated into understanding the goings-on all across the campus, from law and justice to probation, to all of these different things,” Bakke added.

“It will cause Jackie to be part of those discussions now directly. I can’t help but believe that they will help improve accountability because she’s going to be meeting with commissioners on a much more regular basis,” he said.

Bakke recalled a recent mental health forum that stressed the importance of community outreach and education. The new department will be vital in leading the county’s efforts in those areas, he said.

“I think the theme that kept reoccurring over and over through that forum was awareness and education as being the foundation, the pillars of any successful program.”

“This raises the level of awareness not only for the commissioners but the county as a whole on those issues, and how we as a county and a community can work together better as we move forward to help these folks who so desperately need help,” Bakke said.

Creating a new department will also resolve people’s concerns over accountability on how the new sales tax revenue will be spent, he added.

“By making this a stand-alone department, it means that all of the money that comes in from the mental health initiative — and from previous sources, grants and so on — will stay in that department,” he said.

Currently, roughly 20 percent of the money received from grants for human services goes to the health department to pay for administrative costs, Bakke said.

But Bakke said it was important to guarantee that all of the money coming from the sales tax increase gets spent on mental health issues, however.

“Particularly in light of this mental health initiative, I simply wasn’t willing to let that happen. Because we went out as a community and as a commission and sold that as an initiative to the community,” he said.

“That money desperately needs to spent on mental health, and by creating a stand-alone department, it will all be spent on mental health,” Bakke said.

County commissioners unanimously approved next year’s spending plan on Dec. 10.

Island County will have a total budget of $73.8 million next year, up from this year’s adopted budget of roughly $69 million.

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