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MENTAL HEALTH AGENCY Retiring leader of Trumbull Lifelines has plans to travel



Published: Mon, April 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



He is leaving a board with a $13.4 million budget and contracts with 28 local providers.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Richard Darkangelo, head of the Trumbull LifeLines since 1978, has decided to exchange his office for an automobile.

After retiring June 31, he'll head west with his wife, a business teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, to spend the summer camp-ing, cycling and visiting old haunts.

"Just to recreate for a while," he said.

Darkangelo, who holds a master's degree in social work, said he may resume counseling individuals or leading therapy groups in the fall. It is a sideline he gave up about five years ago.

"I've always missed it," he said. "It is really something very fulfilling to help people to more identify their strengths."

Darkangelo, 59, has led the agency, known until last year as the Board of Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Health, through 24 years of near-continual expansion.

Board's function: The board contracts with local agencies to provide services for county residents who are struggling with mental health problems or trying to kick an addiction. It is funded by state grants and local levies.

When Darkangelo quit as chief supervisor at Trumbull County Children Services Board to head up a mental health board, the board's budget was less than $1 million and it worked with eight local agencies.

He is leaving a board with an annual budget of $13.4 million and contracts with 28 local providers for services ranging from psychiatric counseling to in-home assistance to parents of disabled youngsters.

The constant expansion tracked Ohio's initiatives to shift care away from state mental hospitals and into local communities. Mental health problems are addressed earlier now, often with outpatient or day-treatment programs that are much less costly to run, Darkangelo said.

"At children services, I was helping people one at a time," he said. "I came here for the potential to develop a delivery system that helps more people, that really provides all that's needed."

He says the agency has been successful.

"Now, we don't put people in hospitals and they never come back again," he said.

During his tenure, Darkangelo has also led the board through three successful levy campaigns.

Effect of levy: But an attempt to add an additional 1-mill levy last November failed, prompting the board to cut back services and leading to layoffs at many agencies that rely on mental health board funds.

Lifelines will have a second try to get the levy passed in the May election, but even if this one passes, Darkangelo said his successor will likely oversee the agency during a period of contraction.

As the state reduces the money it has available, the board may have to concentrate on providing the services which they are required to by law and those for which the federal Medicaid program will bear some of the cost, he predicts.

The board experienced $900,000 in cuts after the levy failed. Some of the impact then was absorbed by cutting administrative expenses at agencies.

"I don't know how much more we can re-engineer to cut costs," he said. "I don't know how much more you can get blood from the turnip."

Further cuts could require more agencies to merge or programs to be ended, he said.

"You know someone who will be affected by that," he said. "One in five people experience mental illness sometime in their life. One in five experience drug and alcohol dependence. We are all affected by it."

The LifeLines board is in the process of interviewing nine candidates to replace Darkangelo. A retirement dinner in his honor will be at the Avalon Inn in Howland April 17. Tickets can be purchased by calling the LifeLines office.




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