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Former Onondaga County health commissioner warns of changes

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Former Onondaga County health commissioner warns of changes
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A surprise resignation by Onondaga County's health commissioner has drawn the attention of county lawmakers. Their health committee held a hearing on the developments Friday. Bill Carey says the dispute that led to the resignation centers on work by the County Executive's office to study ways to fold some health programs into a new department of Child and Family Services.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- As lead-off witness before the legislature's health committee, Dr. Cynthia Morrow's message was clear.

There is no reason to remove the maternal health unit from the health department.

Dr. Cynthia Morrow, former Onondaga County Health Commissioner said, "To my knowledge, there has neither been a clearly defined problem that instigated this, nor is there a clearly defined process by which to solve the problem."

Morrow's former bosses say they were stunned by her departure. They say the plan was in the early stages of discussion. The goal, they say is to coordinate all of the various services offered to children and families through one office.

Ann Rooney, Deputy Onondaga County Executive said, "No one is contesting what the end goal is. Its how we get there and that is what we are working on right now."

David Sutkowy, Onondaga County Children and Family Services Commissioner said, "Nowhere in our world these days is anybody talking about anything other than improving coordination, collaboration, integration of services. That's the mantra in our system."

County leaders say just three years ago, the former health commissioner had embraced moving part of her department into the old social services department, all because it was unclear whether the unit would be able to secure enough funding on its own. The funding eventually came through and the plan was dropped.

Rooney said, "Essentially, you can't have it both ways. It can't be bad today, but it was good three years ago for us to preserve these services."

County lawmakers say the dispute may be premature. And that any final plan must still be approved by the legislature as part of next year's budget.

Ryan McMahon, (R) Onondaga County Legislature Chairman said, "Over the next 3 or 4 months the executive branch will do further diligence. They've heard the concerns Dr. Morrow has raised. Come to us with a plan, maybe, maybe not. And then once we typically see a real policy change like this, the legislature typically takes their time in making any decision."

Morrow says she will continue to argue against the change. A change she says will jeopardize services for families in need and the county's ability to fund those services.

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