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Health board has final meeting

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2000


WILDWOOD -- With little fanfare, the District 13 Health and Human Services Board met for the last time Thursday.

The Legislature earlier this year formally dissolved the board, which had helped to oversee Department of Children and Families operations in Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties. All similar boards throughout Florida were eliminated.

In their place will be community alliances that will help ease the transition as the department brings in private providers to oversee foster care and other related services. Alliance members will be key decisionmakers and social service providers in each county.

That legislative decision didn't exactly sit well with some local board members.

"There was a reason to have a board. There's still a reason to have a board," chairwoman Doris Bedell, from Hernando County, said Thursday.

Still, most of the talk concerned good memories and plans for the future. Board members and department staffers gathered at the district headquarters here to celebrate, not mourn.

"It's just been an inspiration working with you all," said Leonard Barriner, a board member from Marion County.

District Administrator Patrick Howard presented board members with plaques -- and a challenge.

Many people don't understand the department, he said, and thus condemn department actions. Howard asked the board members to remain active in their communities and be willing to explain what Children and Families is about.

"We need people who understand us," Howard said.

Children and Families serves a variety of social service needs, such as helping people who have developmental disabilities, helping determine Medicaid eligibility and protecting children and seniors from abuse and neglect.

Janice Johnson, a top District 13 official, recalled how the district wasn't receiving its fair share of state dollars a few years ago.

Board members helped "bring some level of equity to this district in terms of funding," Johnson said. "We appreciate your advocacy."

Michael Gilbert, a Children and Families planner, said some staffers in other districts didn't enjoy such a close, positive relationship with their board members.

"Thanks, guys," he said quietly. "You've been good."

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