St. Mary's Human Services Now Under One Umbrella

Bennett Connelly is head of the newly created St. Mary's Department of Human Services, which opened July 1.
Bennett Connelly is head of the newly created St. Mary's Department of Human Services, which opened July 1. (By James A. Parcell For The Washington Post)
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By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008

It used to be that when St. Mary's County officials wanted to enact a policy about issues such as transportation or housing, they contacted a number of agencies to get feedback about how segments of the population would be affected.

Suspecting a disconnect among like-minded agencies, county commissioners hired a consultant to study the issue, and they held public forums. As a result, the commissioners decided to establish a Department of Human Services to pull agencies together and eliminate overlaps in funding and planning.

"We wanted to find a way to tie these strategies together, to be more focused," said Bennett Connelly, who was named director of the department three weeks ago.

The county agencies in the department, which opened July 1 but won't be fully operational until the fall, are mental health, substance abuse, community services, Marcey Halfway House and the Local Management Board. The department's staff will be in the Potomac Building on the government center campus in Leonardtown.

With the creation of the department, county residents will have one place for access to resources about mental health, housing, employment, transportation and other issues.

Connelly said the department will prepare a "report card" on services and identify strategies by asking: Where do the services stand now? Where are they headed? Are the lives of county residents improving?

To assist the department, county commissioners established an 18-member panel that represents a cross section of the county's population. In addition to directors of county departments that provide human services, the council has representatives from nonprofit, education, business and religious organizations.

"If we are making these strategies, we want to make sure we have the views of the people receiving these services and those giving it," Connelly said. "We want to be an advocate for the consumers."

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