Gina Cantanucci-Mitchell: Leading Aging and Disability Resource Center for Washington County
One thing Gina Cantanucci-Mitchell wasn’t expecting when she joined Washington County’s Office for Aging as Executive Director was the sale of the county Department of Public Health, but that’s the news in Washington County, the North Country.
Public Health was sold to a private company. The good news is: it prompted the Office for Aging to begin a new era in their partnership with the Fort Hudson Nursing Home. “We contract with them to do social day and we just contracted with them to do medical day.” When Fort Hudson heard about a referral refusal they “were in my office asking to contract with us. We said absolutely if you’re willing to take this on which means serving all of the individuals in Washington County.”
The private company has since reignited its partnership with the Office for Aging so they have two options for referrals in Washington County.
Cantanucci-Mitchell has been the Office for Aging Director for 7 months. “She’s part of a new wave of directors/commissioners who came on board during the past 18 months, ” said Laura Cameron, Executive Director of the NYS Association of Area Agencies on Aging, an umbrella organization for New York’s local offices for the aging and aging network organizations. “We are featuring these individuals in a series of articles to introduce them to the aging services network and learn a bit about them and the agencies they lead.”
The Washington County Area Agency on Aging is called Aging and Disability Resource Center/Washington County CARES for Washington County because eight years ago the Office for Aging and Department of Social Services (DSS) merged to become an Aging and Disability Resource Center. Aging and disability have always crossed paths because often with age comes disability. However, the merger still requires the county have an Office for Aging Director.
“We take people who call or come in no matter where they are at. No wrong door entry,” said Cantanucci-Mitchell.
That is the trend in human services: it used to be called single point of entry and is now called “no wrong door.” It means when a consumer reaches out the first time, they’re automatically connected to the system no matter who they reach out to.
Consumer Directed Services is also a trend in aging and disability resources and one that Cantanucci-Mitchell is familiar with. “When I worked in Michigan for 10 years I worked for Community Living Services which is a national leading organization for consumer directed services,” which is an alternative model to traditional home care that allows the individual receiving the care to determine who they want in their homes and when they want them.
Cantanucci-Mitchell graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a degree in Social Work and worked in Detroit for 10 years. She relocated to Washington County as a result of her parent retirement to the area. She met her husband while visiting them.
In 2001, she was traveling on 9/11. She returned to the states and her parents who living in Washington County, having retired to the area. They were raised in New York State, but her father was transferred to Michigan.
She ended up staying and working as the Director of Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) for youth who are individuals in need of supervision, juveniles who are going through the court system. “I had contracted with DSS and they approached me when they started a juvenile treatment court program. So I left YAP and came to Washington County to start that program, but funding cuts came down. I switched to child protective and did that for several years. From there I came here last August.
This month she started a series of visits to the “senior clubs” in Washington County, which has 17 towns. “I feel like it’s the best part of the job to hearing from them and they have been amazing to me in this position.”