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Lebanon County Commissioners bid goodbye and happy retirements to two longtime employees at their meeting this week.
Kevin Schrum, administrator of Lebanon County’s Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention program is retiring after 37 years of service to the county.
His last day will be Oct. 4, when Holly Leahy, Director of MH Services for Lebanon County, will take over as the agency’s administrator.
Schrum was on hand to deliver the 90-page “Human Services Plan” to the commissioners.
The plan is an analysis of the needs of the department’s consumers and includes information on how to address the opioid epidemic.
“We have some great strengths in Lebanon County’s MH program, and we also have things we need to work on,” Schrum said. “If we’re going to be implementing new initiatives, we’re going to need funding.
“We need to find a way to fund and sustain our programs,” Schrum said.
Several years ago, the state cut 10 percent of mental health funding to the county, Schrum said, adding that demand for services has significantly risen since that time.
The commissioners all thanked Schrum for his long-term dedication to helping others.
“I’d like to thank him for his long tenure and his decades of service,” said Commissioner Joellen Litz.
“He’s been a great employee and we hate to lose him,” Commissioner Bill Ames added.
Also planning to retire on Sept. 4 after 40 years is Kathleen Kirby, the commissioners’ administrative assistant.
Kirby started as a CETA clerk, she said.
The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act was enacted by Congress in 1973 to train workers and provide them with jobs in public service.
“We helped a lot of people to get jobs,” Kirby said.
The commissioners adopted a proclamation honoring Kirby for her years of service.
“It’s unusual to give a proclamation for one of our own,” said Chief Clerk Jamie Wolgemuth. “She started here in 1979 and we wanted to honor Kathy for her devotion and commitment. In 2019 she’ll be retiring after 40 years of distinguished service.”
Wolgemuth, who started in the courthouse at a relatively young age, said he has spent nearly half of his life interacting with Kirby.
Commissioner Bob Phillips wished Kirby a happy retirement.
“It’s been a pleasure working with you,” Phillips said. “You have an even-handed approach with everybody and that’s a good characteristic to have in this environment.”
“You have been the rock in this office,” said Litz. “You’ve been here longer than any of us and all of Lebanon County has benefited from your experience.”
In other business, Schrum presented a suicide prevention proclamation, explaining that September is Suicide Prevention Month.
At 8pm on Sept. 10, which is World Suicide Prevention Day, folks are asked to light a candle (battery-powered, if possible) near a window to raise awareness and support prevention of suicide in the Lebanon community.
In 2018, the county had 22 suicides, Schrum said, and in 2019, so far, there have been 13.
“Occasionally it’s a young person, and occasionally, an older person, but by far, statistically, suicide is by middle-aged white males, by firearms,” Schrum said. “Statistically, that is what the state is finding, too.
“It is very sad and it always affects more than the person; family, friends, co-workers, it has such a ripple effect and it affects the community,” Schrum said.
“Sometimes there is no ‘why,’ and many times, it’s a relationship issue, or substance abuse, particularly alcohol, or a mental health issue,” Schrum said, in answer to the commissioners’ questions.
“Thus does impact our whole community and every effort must be made to lower the rates,” Wolgemuth said.
Schrum also brought a spate of events that will be happening next month to raise suicide awareness and prevention.
On Saturday, Sept. 14, a “You Matter” event will be held from 4 to 6pm at the Cleona Playground at South Garfield Street, with a Disney/Pixar movie called “Inside Out.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 17, a “Youth Suicide Awareness Conference” will be held from 8am to 3:30pm at the Church of the Good Shepherd, 1500 Quentin Road, Lebanon. Suicide is the leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds and the conference will teach how to help those at risk.
On Tuesday, Sept. 24 a mental health first aid course for adults will be taught at Wellspan Philhaven Training Center, 283 Butler Road, Mt. Gretna from 8am to 5pm.
On Thursday, Sept. 26, a remembrance ceremony will be held in the Remembrance Garden at the Nature Barn at Stoever’s Dam, 946 Miller St., Lebanon, to honor those lost to suicide. To have a loved one memorialized in the program and garden, call 717-274-3415.
The Lebanon County Suicide Prevention Task Force can be reached at the same number.
In another matter, Cheri Brown presented information from Lebanon County Geographical Information Systems about the potential for a multi-party geospatial data-sharing agreement to the commissioners.
“The agreement would serve as a vehicle for counties to share information with each other and the state,” Brown said.
The data, including tax parcel information, would be available for downloading and would be available to the public.
“I don’t see a problem in doing this; it’s up to us as to how much we want to share,” Brown said. “I don’t feel that signing the agreement would be too threatening, but then we have to decide what we want to share – or, you could throw the whole enchilada at them; it’s whatever you want to do.”
It’s important that everybody realizes that what is shared will be public information, Brown said.
“It seems only right to share some of the data, but could we do this in two parts?” Litz asked.
Litz asked if the contract could be signed soon, but suggested that Brown and Wolgemuth work together to decide what the county wants to share, information-wise, before diving into the program.
Jennifer Kuzo of Visit Lebanon Valley, the county’s tourist promotion agency, told the commissioners that the agency has been promoting local produce and the beauty of the agricultural landscape in the county this summer.
Kuzo is working on an architectural trail to highlight some of Lebanon’s finer older buildings, and this may be a walking tour or a self-guided tour in September.
The agency is also planning a “Libation Trail” of wineries, breweries, and distilleries in the Lebanon Valley.
“We are serious about tourism,” Kuzo said.
A proposal made at the end of the meeting by Litz to research bidding on the former county home, Cedar Haven, did not receive a second from Phillips or Ames.
“We have 7.8 million dollars left from the original sale that we could use to bid on it, and if there’s no other bidders we might get it, so I think it would be foolish not to look at it,” said Litz.
Asked by WLBR’s Gordon Weise for comment, Phillips said, “If they are choosing as a business in Lebanon County to sell, it should be in the hands of the private sector, and we shouldn’t be competing against other nursing homes in Lebanon County and take it off the tax role.”
“The care of the residents is obviously the dominant thing in our minds and the Department of Health is responsible for making sure that happens, and I am confident they will continue making sure our residents receive good care no matter the owner,” he said.
Ames noted that since Franklin County sold its nursing home in 2013, the home has changed hands six times. “That’s the nature of the business,” he said.
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