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Derry finalizes contract to outsource human services

Union Leader correspondent

June 20. 2018 10:22PM

DERRY — Babette Fitzgerald remembers how it felt the first time she walked into the town’s human services offices to ask for help.

Recently separated from her husband and a mom of two young kids in the early 2000s, Fitzgerald moved from a house to a Red Oak apartment — leaving behind most of her furniture and appliances in the process — and was struggling to keep her electricity from getting shut off.

“I ended up falling behind on things,” Fitzgerald said. “It was very difficult. It was embarrassing.”

She remembers getting food from the St. Thomas Aquinas Church food pantry, which she had donated to in the past. Her mother told her to go to town hall for the help she needed, and case workers there helped her to set up a payment plan with the electric company.

From then on, the staff at human services helped guide her on what to do, she said. All the while, Fitzgerald was working, sometimes up to three jobs at a time.

“They were very good to me in a time when I was alone,” she said.

Now, it seems that department that helped Fitzgerald get back on her feet is going away, but the services it delivered won’t be going anywhere, according to town officials.

The town has signed a $89,375 contract with an outside organization, Greater Derry Community Health Services (CHS), to provide their human services and administer direct aid.

“We’re excited about this opportunity,” Town Administrator David Caron said.

The deal means the town will save about $99,000 per year, Caron said. The current human services administrator and a temp worker will be laid off.

Caron said he expects CHS will be able to reach more people because they have more case workers.

Some residents like Fitzgerald aren't happy about the change, but essential services and eligibility won't change according to Caron and CHS.

Fitzgerald was one of more than half a dozen residents who spoke out against the change at a recent town council meeting. Others tried and failed to collect signatures to petition the council to reconsider its vote.

The council was divided on its vote, with Phyllis Katsakiores being one of the more vocal councilors in expressing opposition to the change. Councilor Joshua Bourdon also voted ‘no’ at the time of the vote, but he has since tempered his response to the change, citing positive feedback he’s received from residents who have interacted with CHS.

The contract with CHS was signed last week by Caron and CHS Executive Director Donna Tighe.

It will take effect on July 1 and be in force for a term of 13 months. After that, the town will review how things are going and decide whether or not to continue working with them.

CHS, located in the third floor at 14 Tsienneto Road, is currently contracted with Londonderry and Hampstead to provide the same kinds of services. And it has helped more than 2,000 Derry residents over the past year, Tighe said.

Tighe presented information about her organization to the town council at its meeting on Tuesday, and acknowledged some of the resistance that exists for CHS to take over the delivery of human services.

“Change is hard. We completely understand that people don’t want to try something new,” Tighe said.

But she said they have experience helping people in crisis and getting them connected to local organizations for food, heating oil or help with bills.

Sometimes, it’s just as simple as showing people how to fill out a form, she said.

“I’m a nurse,” Tighe said. “You have to stop the bleed and then you have to figure out why.”

The ultimate goal is to make sure people are self sustaining, she said.

She said it’s a misconception that human services is going away.

“This is the town of Derry’s department,” Tighe said.

She said CHS will deliver services under the same rules and policies the town has previously established.

Caron said the direct aid budget is actually going up, increasing the amount of money that can be disbursed to residents in need. It’s budgeted for $86,000 in fiscal year 2018 and $110,000 in fiscal year 2019.

Tighe said they are going to hire one new case manager to do application evaluations. Two other case managers will be dedicated to Derry.

Fitzgerald said she’s mainly concerned that CHS won’t be able to handle the number of Derry residents who will need help.

And she thinks the change in location will cause access issues for people who might find it easier to get to town offices.

At the council meeting, Tighe said they can arrange for transportation when needed, but it’s their experience that it rarely is.

One other thing is eating at Fitzgerald: the loss of the human services staff. She said they have gotten to know the residents over the years. They know the residents’ names when they walk in, and what’s going on in their lives, she said.

“They’re not just a person who works there,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re a part of the community.”

General News Human Interest Derry East Derry Londonderry

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