Recently, basically out of the blue, Guilford County began advertising to hire a new director of Health and Human Services, a position that will oversee the giant department that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners combined into one about seven years ago.

The position has been empty for over five years – saving county taxpayers close to $200,000 a year. This week, Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips explained the rationale for filling the position now.

Phillips stated in an email that the new director will play an important role in the upcoming major transition in the way mental health care is provided in the county.

“Some of the commissioners and county staff have actually been talking about filling the HHS Director position for some time,” Phillips stated in an email. “The stars seem to have aligned as far as the timing is concerned. Among other reasons, one critically important factor is our point in time with the development of our Behavioral Health Crisis Center initiative.”

Phillips was the main architect in a private-public partnership that’s meant to completely transform the way mental health services are provided in Guilford County. The county is currently constructing a new mental health campus that will include a new home for 24/7 mental health and crisis management care.

“We’re on track to open the doors of the new facility in the spring, so moving ahead with strong leadership in the HHS Director position over the next few months will be critical to our continued progress on that front as well.” the chairman continued. “In addition to having strengths in both the Social Services and Public Health arenas, this individual will need to be qualified to effectively oversee the completion of the new behavioral health facility, navigate the successful opening in early 2021, and further solidify our long-term partnership with Cone Health and the Sandhills Center.”

When the county had the position filled years ago, the director at that time was making $160,000 a year plus benefits.

Phillips stated this week that as long as he’s been on the Board of Commissioners – since 2012, that is – the board has made the delivery of high-quality health and human Services a top priority.

“We intend for the future of behavioral healthcare services to be some of the best in the country as we head into the future,” Phillips stated. “Frankly, there’s zero margin for error when it comes to our expectation of excellence where the future of GCDHHS and mental health services in Guilford County is concerned, so I believe getting the right person in that role soon is critically important to our long-term success.”