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Addiction providers defend turf in plan to merge services with mental health


ALBANY -- The state's effort to combine addiction and mental health services has people in the addiction field nervous that they will become the ugly stepsister again.

The state Office for Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the Office of Mental Health have been working toward combining treatment services to provide "one-stop shopping" for New Yorkers who suffer from both problems.

The Rev. Peter Young recalls a time when alcohol addiction was a bureau within the mental health department -- and it's not a fond memory.

"We were just a sidebar to their agenda," Young said Thursday at an OASAS hearing on the agency's goals for 2012. Young founded an addiction treatment and residential program in Albany.

"We need to defend our turf," Young said.

Alcohol and substance abuse were moved out of the former Department of Mental Hygiene in 1977, and each became its own separate agency. In 1992, the two merged to form today's OASAS.

OASAS Commissioner Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez told the audience that it is not her intention for the office to be "subsumed" by OMH.

"A true merger is when you integrate programs at the same level," she said, with each program having equal importance.

Gonzalez-Sanchez, who was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is the former commissioner of human services in Nassau County, where she oversaw the merger of the county's mental health and addiction departments.

Marsha Nadell Penrose, executive director of The Next Step, a residential program for woman recovering from addictions in Albany, said merging has some advantages. Clients may receive more access to services in both areas, and professionals may get more training. But she has concerns.

"The fear is being a stepsister, the poor relation," Penrose said. "When something gets subsumed under and into another agency that much larger, I'm afraid that we won't be special anymore, that we will lose our identity."

Gonzalez-Sanchez said it is too early to say whether the agencies will merge, but efforts to combine their treatment service for residents with co-occurring disorders continue.

Reach Crowley at 454-5348 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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