Human service centers merge

By Tara Kulash

The H Group and Southern Illinois Regional Social Services will reunite  for the first time since they shared common beginnings nearly 50 years ago.

The two non-for-profit organizations, both of which offer help to those with behavioral disorders, substance abuse and more, will combine efforts  July 1 to become the highest employed agency in southern Illinois. Once merged, the agency will have a budget of about $25 million a year with 550 employees. Once combined, the agencies will carry on with the title of the H Group.

After she noticed state and national trends of company merges to combat reductions in funding,  Kathy Freitag, chief administrative officer for the H Group, said the two organizations are a good match to come together. Before the efforts to merge, Freitag held the position of was executive director of SIRSS.

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H Group CEO John Markley said smaller agencies don’t tend to receive as much money from the state, so this will be good for the merged organization financially. Although they weren’t under the same umbrella, Markley said the two continues have collaborated on several projects, at least for the past 30 years.

Freitag said in the late 50s citizen groups put together the Southern Illinois Mental Health Clinic — which covered the Franklin-Williamson county area and Jackson and Perry counties. In the late 60s, though, the company broke into separate agencies and the H Group covered the Franklin-Williamson area with offices in Marion, West Frankfort and Kentucky, and SIRSS covered Jackson and Perry Counties with offices in Carbondale.

Markley said another reason the merger will save money is because resources will be consolidated. For example, instead of two administrative staffs, there will only be one. This will help toward the company’s goal of a two percent income over expenses.

Markley said many people believe that when an organization is non-for-profit, it doesn’t make any profit. However, it means that when there is a profit, it’s put back toward the agency’s mission. He said he hopes the organization will make enough to continue to spread outside the lower 27 counties it serves and pay for services the state doesn’t fund anymore.

Markley said one of the goals of the merge was not to reduce the staff. He said he knows some people might choose to leave because they’re uncomfortable with the change, but that’s part of the nature of a merge. He said he also hopes to add more positions eventually but can’t say yet when that will happen or how many will be added.

Besides just saving money, Markley said he’s excited to work with the group of people from SIRSS. He said many times when companies talk about merging, it falls through, so he’s thrilled the agencies were able to come to an agreement.

“I really think this merger was in the best interest of everybody and everybody realized it,” Markley said.

He said it wasn’t the easiest thing to do, because merging two cultures can be difficult.

Christopher Julian-Fralish, a staff counselor at the Student Health Center and member of the board for the H Group, said he doesn’t think there were many obstacles during the negotiating process. He said the real challenge revolved around the differences between the agencies such as manuals and the way things were written and done.

“It wasn’t contentious at all, anything we came across,” Julian-Fralish said. “It was, ‘How can we resolve this?’ rather than ‘We can’t do it.’”

Joining the board was important to Julian-Fralish, he said, because his job as a counselor is to serve people.

“I think part of it is just believing in the idea of helping others, and I think the job of the board is to guide that,” he said.

Freitag said with any kind of merge there are always worries as to whether it will be a good fit, but the teams have worked so well together.

“We found that people from the original organizations are working together beautifully and that is so encouraging,” she said.

With the July 1 merge date approaching, Freitag said there’s still much work to do that will continue after the merge as well.  She said the facilities will stay in the same place, but in Carbondale there might be two facilities added. She said there will be a celebration of the merge open to the public at 4 p.m. July 12 at the Marion Pavilion.

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