COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – The future of some agencies in South Carolina are up in the air.
S.2 is waiting for a hearing in the House Ways and Means committee. The legislation would dissolve the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and restructure other agencies.
It would split DHEC into the South Carolina Department of Behavioral and Public Health (DBPH) and the South Carolina Department of Environmental Services (DES).
Under the legislation, this DBPH would be made up of the DHEC’s health related divisions, the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) and most divisions of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH).
Bill Lindsey is the Executive Director for the South Carolina chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). He said mental health advocates across the state are worried about the unintended consequences of a merger.
“You’ve got this crisis in mental health going on around the country because of the pandemic. We just don’t need to have a disruption of services and I just really think that’s an issue,” he said.
Lindsey said he doesn’t have an issue with a split of DHEC but believes the state Department of Mental Health should remain as is. He was a part of a DHEC created task-force that studied the future of South Carolina’s health and environmental services.
The SHaPE SC taskforce recommended keeping DAODAS and DMH autonomous.
Lindsey said he’s worried about an impact to services while the restructuring is ongoing. He said, “Regardless of how seamless they think that will be – when you start restructuring and have to train a whole new set of organizational issues – time spent doing that could take away from patient care.”
Lindsey was also concerned about the size of DPBH, he argued the legislation would make the agency larger than DHEC.
The legislation passed unanimously in the Senate last month.
DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer spoke to the DHEC board about S.2 this week. He told them he has been in contact with the other agency heads who would be impacted.
He told the board, “All of us are very clear in agreement. Whatever comes from the legislature we would implement. We would have to do it in a way to make sure no one falls through the cracks and anyone who relies on our agencies for services will continue to do in a timely and professional manner.”
If the bill were to become law, changes would need to be implemented by July 2023.