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L.A. County supervisors choose Mitch Katz to head health agency

Mitch Katz, director of the Department of Health Services, speaks at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 9. Katz has been chosen to head up a new consolidated county health agency.

Mitch Katz, director of the Department of Health Services, speaks at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 9. Katz has been chosen to head up a new consolidated county health agency.

(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County supervisors have officially announced that Dr. Mitch Katz, who heads the county hospital system, will run a new health super-agency that contains the hospital system and the departments of mental health and public health.

Katz’s selection was seen in county circles as a foregone conclusion, but the supervisors formalized the decision in a closed-door meeting Tuesday.

As director of the county’s Department of Health Services, Katz oversees the nation’s second-largest health system. It includes a network of county hospitals and clinics with 20,000 employees and an operating budget of $4.8 billion. Before taking that job in 2011, he headed San Francisco’s health department.

He had advocated for his department to be merged with the mental health and public health departments to form a single health agency.

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The board voted in September to take that step, a major reorganization that proponents say will lead to better-integrated care and more efficient administration.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said in a statement that Katz is “a skilled leader with extensive experience in managing the delivery of medical services in hospitals and clinics, as well as services for mental health and public health. He understands the unique services provided by the county’s three departments being integrated under the Health Agency and has a strong vision for how they must work together to cost-effectively improve access and quality for L.A. County residents.“

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Opponents pushed back vigorously against the consolidation, arguing that mental health concerns and public health programs, including substance abuse treatment and environmental health programs, would likely take a back seat to the needs of the hospital system.

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The three departments will continue to maintain their own budgets and executive management teams under the umbrella of the new agency. According to a county statement, Katz has requested that his current salary of $419,655 remain the same in his new position.

County spokesman David Sommers said Katz will continue to run the health services department as well as the larger agency on an interim basis, but in the long term, the plan is to appoint a new director to replace him in running the hospital and clinic system.

Advocates had argued that it would be a conflict of interest for Katz to run both the health services department and the larger agency.

He will also need to select new permanent leaders for the mental health and public health departments. Katz said the positions will be posted and he will vet candidates to make recommendations to the supervisors, who will have the final say.

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Apart from filling those positions, he said the first priority of the new agency will be to create a single registration system so that patients who receive physical health, mental health and public health services don’t have to fill out three sets of forms, as is often the case now.

Katz said in an interview that much of the agency’s attention will be focused on developing treatment and diversion programs for mentally ill people who would otherwise end up in the county jails. His agency is responsible for a newly created county office of diversion and reentry.

“Everybody agrees it’s the right thing to do, but it has not yet happened to scale in a place like L.A. County,” he said. “Can it be done to scale in L.A.? I think it can.”

He said in a statement that the new agency structure will help: “Having everyone rowing in the same direction can make a huge difference when dealing with complex social problems.”

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The board will finalize the appointment and approve Katz’s contract at a future meeting.

Twitter: @sewella

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