The state’s fifth locally-based human services district came on line this month with formal approval for the South Central Louisiana Human Services Authority to begin full operations July 1.

The new district joins a growing effort to move leadership and operations of mental health, developmental disability and addictive disorder services to a community-based model and out of the state’s central authority.  This change will give residents more direct access to local services and allow local leaders to have more control and responsibility for the care and services provided in their communities.

“We are proud of the hard work of so many involved in making the South Central Louisiana Human Services Authority a reality, and were pleased to transfer operations over to them,” said Department of Health Secretary Alan Levine. “It has been a major focus of our administration to empower local communities to determine how services for individuals with behavioral health concerns and developmental disabilities are delivered within those communities. This will allow the people of South Central Louisiana to control their own destiny while still having strong support from the state.”

Human services districts operate as independent local governing entities (LGEs). Authorized by various legislative instruments and enhanced through Act 373 of the 2008 Legislature, these entities allow local leaders, advocates and stakeholders to access multiple sources of funding to meet unique needs of their local communities.

SCLHSA went through a rigorous multi-year process of development and regulatory approval before being cleared last month by LDH to begin full operation as an LGE with a perfect score. Those reviews tested everything from budget controls and human resources capacity to details of procedures and protocols for assessing individuals in need of services and getting those services to them in an appropriate, effective and timely manner.

Executive Director of the new human services authority Lisa Schilling has worked closely with the group’s board of directors to make the SCLHSA a reality. Board members come from each parish in the region served through the Authority. They are Chairman Ray Nicholas, Assumption Parish; Vice Chairman Trudy Franks, Terrebonne Parish; Donna Cobb, Terrebonne Parish; Lisa Matherne, Lafourche Parish; Viola Daigle, Lafourche Parish; Faith Farlough, St. John the Baptist Parish; Patricia Dennis, St. James Parish; and Karen Lentini, St. Charles Parish. The St. Mary Parish spot is currently vacant.

“The SCLHSA board and staff are thrilled to have passed the four-phase Readiness Assessment Criteria established by LDH and the Legislature to become an official local governing entity effective July, 1, 2010,” Schilling said. “Having worked in the state system for more than 25 years, I am excited about the possibilities that this private/public partnership affords our communities here in the Bayou Region. Local representatives from our seven parishes along with myself and the SCLHSA staff from the offices of addictive disorders, developmental disabilities and mental health look forward to changing the face of behavioral health and community service care in our area.”

The authority will celebrate its grand opening at a special event planned for 2 p.m., Thursday, July 22, at the Houma Municipal Auditorium at 880 Verret St. in Houma. 

Other areas of the state have been aggressively pursuing a similar model. Already, four such local governing entities operate in the state. They are the Capital Area Human Services District, Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority, Florida Parishes Human Services Authority and the Metropolitan Human Services District (serving the New Orleans area).

Several others have begun taking the first crucial steps to becoming an LGE with every region at some level of development.

“Our goal is for every region in the state to have a fully functioning, effective and independent human services district focused on connecting people in their communities with the most effective community-based services available,” said LDH Deputy Secretary Tony Keck. “We know this can be a reality, and it will completely redefine behavioral health care and community services in our state. Study after study proves that people thrive in appropriate community-based settings instead of centralized, institutional-type care. It is incumbent on us to change the dialogue in Louisiana and help leaders like Lisa Schilling and her board in South Central Louisiana to succeed.”

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit