1. What are your main responsibilities as Director of DCHS?As director, I lead our strategic planning and program development, an effort that engages and involves not just our talented King County staff, but partners at the federal, state, county and local levels as well as social service agencies, philanthropy, business, advocates and more. I oversee a budget of about $350 million and 295 employees. As a department, we work with regional partners to plan, fund, contract for or directly provide a wide range of services. These include alcohol and drug prevention and treatment, mental health treatment, homeless assistance, housing and community development, employment and education programs, developmental disabilities services and services for veterans, older adults, and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. We also host the Committee to End Homelessness and oversee regional plans and efforts to end homelessness.
2. What do you like most about your job? An easy question: it is the great staff I have to work with! I have only been here a few months, but I already know that I am incredibly fortunate to work with so many talented and creative people absolutely committed to the work that we do and the people in the community we serve. It is inspiring.
3. What is the biggest challenge in your job? The County Executive spoke to our biggest challenge in his State of the County speech: building equity and opportunity. Where you live in King County, how much money you make, and the color of your skin impact not just the quality of your life, but your life expectancy. That is not acceptable. Building equity and opportunity means that all our residents can find safe and stable housing, access affordable and quality health care, and have the means to earn a living wage. Inequities across our population do not just hurt those left behind. It diminishes the quality of life for all. The biggest challenge for DCHS is to make the Executive’s vision of equity “real” and particularly for those who are the most vulnerable. We will do that as we work to improve access to recovery-focused mental health and substance abuse treatment, as we build affordable housing, as we address homelessness through innovations like rapid rehousing, and as we improve our education and employment programs to help people achieve self-sufficiency. Working to ensure that every resident has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential is a big challenge, but one that the staff of DCHS is anxious to tackle.
4. As a relatively new employee, what has surprised you most about the County? I think it would be the range and depth of programs and services provided by the Department of Community and Human Services! In the City of Seattle, responsibility for housing, community development, human services, workforce training, early child development and family supports are coordinated by no less than four separate departments – Office of Housing, Office of Economic Development, Office for Education and the Department of Human Services. In DCHS, we do all that AND mental health and chemical dependency treatment! What is really exciting is that, across the department, there is non-stop energy and commitment to identifying and exploring best and promising practices and that keeps the work interesting.
5. What is your main goal for 2014? Countywide, we are looking to transform the coordination and delivery of health and human services. Transformation begins in DCHS. We are focusing strong efforts on improving the integration of services across our three divisions, beginning with employment and education programs. We have programs dedicated to helping people with developmental disabilities enter the workforce; programs for people recovering from mental illness and chemical dependency; programs for people returning to the workforce from jail and prison; programs for homeless people; education and training programs for at-risk youth; and re-training to prepare dislocated workers and veterans for new careers. What are the best lessons from each and how might they be applied from one program to another? How might we combine or coordinate better across our divisions to serve more people with greater efficiency and better outcomes? Beginning with employment, and then looking at other lines of our business, we will seek to increase our cross system collaboration. As we improve and strengthen connections to those services, we move closer to the goal of providing equitable opportunities for people to be healthy, happy, self-reliant and connected to community. Our efforts will be an important building block for what we want to accomplish as we join with Public Health and our regional partners to integrate and transform health and human services for the future.