Saxena To Manage Community Pathways Program

The deputy director of the former Lackawanna County Health Department has transferred to become the program manager for the county’s groundbreaking, public-health approach to remaking the delivery of family and child welfare services.

Dr. Rachna Saxena, of South Abington Twp., joins nine other professional employees of the former health department in transferring to the Department of Human Services to launch the Family First Community Pathways program. Her salary in the new role will be $65,000 a year.

Commissioners Bill Gaughan and Matt McGloin disbanded the Health Department early in May after a lengthy financial analysis demonstrated that the county could not sustain it. They redirected the county’s public health focus to vulnerable families and children, in an effort to provide them with services that they need to succeed, and to prevent them from entering the child welfare system under the direction of the county’s troubled Office of Youth and Family Services.

Under the Family First Community Pathways project, Saxena will lead the other former Health Department employees in identifying and helping families struggling with public health issues rooted in poverty, including inadequate housing, poor nutrition, domestic violence, substance abuse, and more. Rather than funneling struggling families into the welfare system, the Family First Community Pathways project will try to connect them with the robust social service network operated largely by community-based providers, rather than by the government alone.

Dr. Saxena has substantial public health experience. Before joining the county Health Department, she was the city of Scranton’s public health coordinator after serving as an epidemiologist for Wake County, North Carolina, which includes the Raleigh area.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that Dr. Saxena and her Health Department colleagues have embraced the Community Pathways concept,” Commissioner Bill Gaughan said. “It underscores that this is a major public health endeavor aimed at improving lives. She has significant experience in dealing with the public health problems that make every day so difficult for vulnerable families. We’re grateful for her commitment, and that she’s bringing her experience and skill to this crucial project at this crucial moment.”

“I'm excited to launch this pilot program aimed at supporting our children and families,” Dr. Saxena said. “In my previous position, I was meeting with all of the school districts in our area. In our meetings, some had mentioned the need for a more accessible and direct resource hub to access different services. Now, with a dedicated team by my side, we will be collaborating with the county departments and other community resources to serve as the central resource center for families in need. I'm looking forward to the success of this program with everyone's help.”

Dr. Saxena’s transfer is the latest in a series of major developments regarding the Office of Youth and Family Services. The agency has been operating under a provisional state license since May 2023, and has struggled to reduce its backlog of referrals while handling its caseload.

When McGloin and Gaughan took office Jan. 2, the office had a backlog of about 900 referrals. Since then, through an all-out effort by agency supervisors and staff, the backlog has been reduced to about 700. But more than 100 new referrals arrive each week.

Since then, with the approval of the state Department of Human Services, the commissioners have authorized the creation of 12 part-time positions in the Office of Youth and Family Services to help with administrative and other tasks not directly tied to case management, freeing full-time caseworkers to handle their caseloads.

Also, with the approval of the state DHS, the county OYFS has begun to recruit former OYFS caseworkers, county employees from other departments, and OYFS caseworkers from other counties to attack and reduce the referral backlog.

The state DHS has not yet formally approved the Family First Community Pathways project, but department secretary Valerie Arkoosh, M.D., endorsed the effort in a statement that she issued Wednesday.

Poverty should not be a cause for child welfare involvement, but families who live in or near poverty may have trouble accessing our most basic, core needs like shelter, food, clothing, transportation, and health care,” Arkoosh said. “Proactively identifying these situations creates an opportunity to offer services and support. Working collaboratively, we can help stabilize families in difficult situations and provide the support they and their children need to be safe and thrive. I appreciate the recognition of these challenges that Lackawanna County is demonstrating and the leadership of its commissioners in establishing a public health response that seeks to help, not hinder a family’s progress. I look forward to seeing this initiative grow and how it can help strengthen families and communities in Lackawanna County.”