Summit County hiring new behavioral health director
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough approached County Councilors three years ago and asked them to fund a temporary contract position in charge of implementing the county’s behavioral health plan.
The Health Department hired Aaron Newman in 2017 to serve as the mental health and substance abuse coordinator as a limited employee. The Health Department created his job to help facilitate partnerships among mental health and substance abuse agencies. Newman has held the position for the last two years.
Now, Bullough has rewritten the role.
The Health Department has advertised for a behavioral health director position. Applications are currently being accepted and the window will remain open until Friday. Newman declined to comment on whether he has applied for the position.
“In essence, it makes Aaron’s position permanent,” Bullough said. “Ultimately, in redefining that role it gives us the potential to continue to grow.”
Newman has played a critical role in connecting resources for mental health and substance abuse services within the community over the last two years. He, along with several key officials and community members, oversaw the creation of the Summit County Mental Wellness Alliance and strategic plan.
The County Council adopted the plan in 2017, solidifying the county’s commitment to identifying the county’s mental health and substance abuse needs for improvement of services and education in the coming years.
The new behavioral health director will be an instrumental figure in furthering the county’s goals to reduce the gaps in services. County officials first recognized the shortcomings of the county’s services in 2015. The effort continued to snowball from there, later involving the county’s three school districts, government leaders, health providers, faith-based organizations and private citizens.
The behavioral health director will be responsible for managing the county’s mental health and substance abuse services, as well as the programs outlined in the strategic plan. The director will oversee state and federal Medicaid funding to ensure the funds are used in accordance with state rules and regulations.
Elected officials are currently in the process of considering a new provider to offer state-mandated services on behalf of the county. The Health Department began contracting with Valley Behavioral Health to provide those services in 2003. The County Council is expected to review presentations from two providers that have been selected as finalists at the Council meeting on Wednesday: Optum and University of Utah Health Plans. The new director will be expected to work closely with the new provider.
The first review of applications for the position is expected to begin early next week, indicating the position may not be filled for at least a couple of weeks. Bullough was unsure how many applications had been received.
Bullough said the director’s role comes at a critical juncture as health officials and community members are expected to spend the summer regrouping. He added, “We need to figure out how we best function together.”
“How do we make sure people in the organization understand their roles?” he said. “How do we make sure there is confusion so we can tell the public how to access services? Now is a good time to take a breath and reset the direction to clarify what we hope to accomplish in our community as it relates to mental health.”
Jennifer McDonald, a self-described lifelong Republican, was selected as the Summit County Republican Party chair last week.