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Los Alamos County’s new Social Services Manager, Kim Gabaldon, has her work cut out as she begins the process of weaving together the scattered threads of various community assistance programs into a viable and coordinated whole.
The county council approved $260,000 for the creation of a social services division in the FY2012 budget after a Community Needs Assessment by the Los Alamos Community Health Council recommended having a central point of contact for better service delivery and more effective organization.
Until Gabaldon was hired three months ago, oversight of social services was scattered between various county departments and outside organizations.
Gabaldon has the background to meet the challenge. She was employed by the State of New Mexico the last five years as the Native American Liaison for the Behavioral Health Services Division.
Prior to that she served as a policy analyst for the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care for the province of Ontario, Canada where she is from.
Gabaldon also worked for many years as a consultant on health related issues to the Union of Ontario Indians, a tribal consortium. She has a master’s degree in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a master’s in Counseling from Lesley University.
Gabaldon’s interest in the position was sparked when a sister-in-law made her aware of the job posting. She has friends in Las Alamos and has been drawn to the community for years.
According to information on the county’s sunshine page, the salary range for the social services manager position is $63,953 as a minimum, to a maximum of $98,984.
“Social services manager to me didn’t seem like a huge transition because I was doing a lot of social services in my previous role as tribal liaison for New Mexico State Human Service Department, in particular behavioral health,” Gabaldon said. “And if you can liaise well with 22 federally recognized tribal entities ...”
Los Alamos County’s Healthcare Assistance Program was the impetus for forming a new Social Services Division under the Community Services Department, and overseeing those services is now Gabaldon’s chief responsibility.
The Office of Management and Budget has managed the program since its inception, but it began to interfere with OMB’s other responsibilities as the number of clients increased from a half dozen a few years ago to nearly 400 in FY2012.
Gabaldon faces a double challenge as she takes up the reins of administering the program in its present structure and oversees its transition into a new form as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
“It’s been a very dynamic time where we’ve seen some changes coming from the state, and the state has seen some changes coming from the feds as a trickledown of the Affordable Care Act,”
Gabaldon said. “So in a weird way, I came in at a great time, because these things have emerged just as I was starting the job.
“It’s dynamic, and I feel useful. I hate to put it that way, because it seems like I wasn’t in my last job, but sometimes with big bureaucracies, you don’t know–if you’re the little cog–that what you do does anything in the giant mechanism.
“But here we’re not only on this journey for what this program is becoming, but I’ve also become very hands on with the other community services contracts that are now transferring over to me, too.”
The county has contracts with several service providers that Gabaldon now oversees, including the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, the youth activity centers, senior centers and the Family Strengths Network.
One of Gabaldon’s most important responsibilities will be evaluating current services and setting priorities for additional social services to meet community needs. Council allocated $150,000 in the FY2013 budget for new contracts in this area.
Gabaldon is coordinating the LACHC, a group comprised of more than two-dozen agencies including the Los Alamos Medical Center, Los Alamos Public Schools, the JJAB and the Los Alamos Family Council.
“They play a very active role in all sorts of health-related activities going on: identifying needs and planning to address those needs in the county,” Gabaldon said.
Gabaldon will help organize LACHC’s meetings and agendas, track the progress of working groups and coordinate efforts to implement its 2013 Health Action Plan.
Another of Gabaldon’s responsibilities is working with Los Alamos Public Schools Prevention Specialist Larry Baca. Gabaldon is knowledgeable about a variety of programs that could be implemented to address issues such as drug abuse and suicide prevention.
The possibility of having Gabaldon assist the Los Alamos County DWI Planning Council, which is currently administered by the Los Alamos Police Department, is also being assessed.
“It’s a huge job. It’s especially challenging because it has never been done here before,” said Community Services Director Charlie Kalogeros-Chattan. “But Kim has a wealth of experience across a lot of lines. There is a lot in her background that will be useful and she also brings good contacts from her previous position.
Kalogeros-Chattan is pleased with Gabaldon’s performance so far.
“She has already transformed this. I see her putting people and directors together like we haven’t seen before,” Kalogeros-Chattan said. “It used to be one piece would be handled here and another there. Sometimes services were being duplicated. We never had one person to direct it all and see the big picture.”
Gabaldon appears unperturbed by the sizeable task ahead of her.
“You kind of get Zen with the reality you’re not going to know it all, you’re not going to be able to do it all, there will never be enough money or time or energy or brain cells,” Gabaldon said.
“But there are people around who know this well, and if you can pull upon the strengths of your team–and your team can be many, not just within the organization but external to the organization–then you’ll find a way forward. And if you trust in that process, that process will work.”
Social Services now has its own office at 1505 15th St.