Healthy and General

Mental health care a priority for Westmoreland County’s new

3 min read

Westmoreland County commissioners on Thursday hired a human services director, taking the first step in a effort to better coordinate local human services programs.

To fill the post that has been vacant since 2018, the commissioners selected Robert Hamilton, a former Lower Burrell councilman and most recently executive director of Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that assists homeless and at-risk veterans in an eight-county region.

Hamilton expects to begin his new job in September. His salary of $127,526 is being funded for the first year as part of a $250,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The grant also paid for a consultant to help improve coordination of services among more than 100 nonprofits that are active in the county.

About 80 of those organizations showcased their offerings during an inaugural county-sponsored human services fair held Thursday on the Youngwood campus of Westmoreland County Community College.

Hamilton said he intends to take a collaborative approach in his new role.

“I’m not here to tell people how to do their jobs,” he said. “I’m here to be a resource and an asset to this community.”

He said his goal is to “create a long-range strategic plan for human services, all programs, to ensure that everyone’s coming together for the common good” while “getting everybody speaking the same language, looking at and examining the same data, to make the decisions that we need to make.”

Hamilton, 34, served for four years as a military police officer with the Army National Guard. He said he grew up in poor circumstances in Derry and “engaged in the wrong type of activities.

“That drove me back here to ensure that other people don’t have to go down the same road I had to.”

“We want to make sure our human services are working to the best of their capabilities, for all our residents,” said commissioners Chairman Sean Kertes. “We want to expand services.”

He said the county will continue to apply for funding to help support the human services director position in years to come.

Several people who attended Thursday’s commissioners meeting protested that Westmoreland officials have not done enough to support mental health services in the county.

Hamilton said his past work with a private health care organization involved working with adolescents and adults with mental health concerns.

“We have a broken mental health system across the United States,” he said adding that he wants to ensure “that here in Westmoreland County we don’t have those issues” with “one coordinated approach to providing human services, ensuring that the most vulnerable populations are receiving world class services.”

Funds designated

On Thursday, the commissioners approved expenditures of more than $25 million from the county’s American Rescue Plan funds. That included $10.4 million to address blighted properties, $10 million for municipal water and sewer projects and $4.4 million for the Westmoreland County Food Bank — but no spending on mental health.

Commissioner Doug Chew said county officials continue to discuss options for funding mental health services, including the county’s share of a $26 billion national settlement of opioid-related lawsuits against three major drug makers. Under the settlement, the county and its 11 largest municipalities would receive up to $22 million over 18 years.

Chew also noted the recently passed state budget includes an extra $150 million in mental health funding.

“There are a lot of pieces to the mental health puzzle that we’ve got to keep in mind,” he said.

Hamilton now will take part in that discussion, according to Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher.

Hamilton holds a bachelor’s degree in public service and a master’s degree in public policy and management from the University of Pittsburgh. He’s working on a doctorate in instructional leadership and management.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .