Debates continue at the capitol on the proposed health-agencies merger

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Committees from four state departments met to once again discuss the impact of consolidating their services. As part of a cost-cutting initiative, the governor wants to consolidate the Departments of Health, Human Services, Aging, and Drug and Alcohol. Immediately following the hearing, dozens of opponents rallied against the idea.

On one side, those for the consolidation believe it will help with Pennsylvania's budget problem. While those at the rally believe it will tear apart families by eliminating the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) and all they say the cabinet has accomplished in the past five years.

"Hell, no! We won't go!" The chant heard throughout the State Capitol by those against the idea of consolidation.

The emotional crowd gathered at the State Capitol, urging legislators to keep the DDAP intact, instead of merging it with 3 other state agencies - a move drug and alcohol advocates see as a downgrade.

One advocate, Deb Beck, president of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania, said to do so would be "demoting it, dismantling it, and burying it once again in another agency, but this time an even bigger agency."

"The house and senate can just say no!" she exclaimed at the rally.

"I see this consolidation as an opportunity to tap and share strengths among folks and to strengthen weaknesses and to be more effective," said Representative Pamela DeLissio, on the Aging Committee. "It's much easier to refer within an agency than to refer to a whole other agency."

Opponents see the consolidation as a backwards step in a hard fought journey, especially for  DDAP, which was made into a separate department in 2012. The department's former secretary, visibly emotional about the fight against opioid epidemic.

"We know what we were not able to get done as a bureau or as a division. We know it didn't work," said DDAP's former secretary, Gary Tennis.

Much of the back and forth debate involves saving Pennsylvania taxpayers millions of dollars and what the cost-cutting could mean for Pennsylvania's opioid epidemic.

"It's not a question of if we consolidate or we don't consolidate. It's a question of revenue to be able to make sure the services that are needed for Pennsylvanians are carried out," stated Stephen McCarter, on the Aging Committee.

The next committee hearing on the potential merger is scheduled for Monday, April 17 at 1 p.m. A communication manager with the State Capitol cannot say when an exact vote will be because the legislation still needs to be drafted.