An Interview with the Executive Director of the Ohio Association of County Boards (OACB)

John Gambill Jr., CEO and President of GO Concepts, had the opportunity to interview Bridget Gargan, Executive Director of the Ohio Association of County Boards, a non-profit organization that offers professional development, technical assistance, advocacy, and communications for all 88 County Boards of developmental disabilities throughout Ohio. Watch the full interview or read the excerpts below…

Share a bit about yourself…

I started at the state house in 1987 and had a passion for politics and policy from as early as I can remember. I worked at the Ohio House Representatives for 5 years. My experience there led to an opportunity to advocate for the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA). I was with OHA for 21 years and it was an amazing experience! I learned a lot about Medicaid, healthcare financing, and the people aspect of healthcare.

In the time that I was with the OHA, I watched the evolution from freestanding community hospitals to larger hospital systems that are very prevalent now. That was a force of necessity in terms of economies of scale. We need to be mindful within the DD universe about the patterns and trends in the public and private sectors and how those can influence what happens at the local government level.

I was at the OHA when I got a call from a headhunter about the opportunity at OACB, and after 21 years at the same organization, even though I loved what I was doing, it was the right time to make a move. I grew up around DD. My mom was a Teacher’s Aide at the local DD school. It just seemed like a great opportunity to combine my experience with state health and healthcare policy – applying some of that to a new realm.

Tell me more about OACB…

For me, one thing that’s always been important is to work on behalf of mission-driven organizations. When I first went to OHA, that was important to me. When I made the transition to OACB in July of 2013, that remained important to me. Hospitals, out of sheer necessity, became somewhat corporate so it seemed like a great time to transition. When I arrived, the association had completed a 3-year strategic plan that was going into effect. I was grateful for that.

They were on a thoroughly sound financial footing, which was great. There were good people, a strategic plan, and the organization was fiscally sound – all three factors made it ideal for starting a new position. But the DD field tends to be very insular. Most of the people you meet in DD – it feels like no matter how old or who they are – they’ve all known one another for years.

People were very welcoming, but I was entrusted to run the association, and although I’ve grown up around DD, I hadn’t worked in DD. That was a big challenge that I underestimated. Everyone was kind but I had no way of knowing how insular the system really was. I had to meet everyone, get to know the issues, etc.

About 4-5 months in, the federal government announced sweeping changes to the DD systems across the country. Ohio had some particular nuances in terms of conflict-free case management. That was a HUGE curveball, but luckily, we had some very experienced staff and legal counsel who played a vital role in setting the direction for the association.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing County Boards?

An ongoing challenge is the concept of County Boards explaining to their communities who they are and what they do. Many of them can no longer rely on the goodwill of their legacy programs, such as workshops and schools, that everyone knew about. That’s an ongoing challenge at all levels – for families, voters, local elected officials. Even though all but a handful of counties are now privatized, there’s still ongoing conversation in communities about who County Boards are and what they do.

They’re still there for people and they’re still paying for services for people, they’re just not providing them. I’m always mindful that we’re here to serve the County Boards. We’re not a county board, we’re here to help do everything we can to simplify the system and make it more sustainable.

Can you share a bit about OACB’s role for County Boards?

We have a team of experienced people who are there to help and support them. Whether it’s assistance with case management or technical support or searches for superintendents or legal guidance, we’re here to serve. We work for the County Boards.

Click here to find out more about OACB and what they do to help 88 County Boards across Ohio.