Counties to restructure health department

Significant leadership changes will soon occur within the San Juan Basin Health Department as the Archuleta and La Plata county boards of county commissioners continue taking incremental steps toward implementation of the Colorado Health Reauthorization Act — also called SB 194.

Governor Bill Ritter signed the legislation into law June 4, 2008, and it requires boards, agencies and public officials to cooperatively develop state and local public health plans that set priorities for the public health system in Colorado. According to the governor’s office, the intent is to assure that core public health services are available to all Colorado residents with a consistent standard of quality.

That said, the law requires county governments to establish a local public health agency or participate with other counties in forming a district public health agency by July 1, 2009. The designated public health agency is then required to prepare a public health plan consistent with the statewide improvement plan as soon as practicable after the statewide public health improvement plan is unveiled Dec. 31, 2009.

During their regular meeting Tuesday, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution that established San Juan Basin Health as a district public health agency with the two counties — Archuleta and La Plata — participating.

In addition, the resolution establishes that the agency will be governed by a district health board whose members will ultimately be appointed by Kellie Hotter, La Plata County board chair, and Bob Moomaw, Archuleta County board chair. In the interim, and until new board members are appointed, both boards of county commissioners and one at-large member will serve as the San Juan Basin Health Department board of directors. Once the new board is in place, additional organizational personnel will be selected, including a director.

Lynn Westberg is San Juan Basin Health Department’s current director.

Although some fear that a politically oriented board of directors may cut services or inappropriately tackle public health matters such as air and water quality issues, Moomaw said the move to install a new board comprised of county commissioners was only a short-term strategy designed to expedite implementation of SB 194.

“This is only appropriate for the short term to facilitate any restructuring that needs to be done with San Juan Basin Health,” Moomaw said. “Six months is our goal. If we can do it in three, that would be excellent. One of the big concerns is the budget this year.”

Moomaw noted he could not speak for the Laq Plata County Board.

According to Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte, Archuleta County contributes about $118,000 per year to funding the San Juan Basin Health Department, and in return, receives a tremendous amount of bang for the buck.

“There is no way we could replicate the same level of service in Archuleta County for that dollar amount,” said Schulte. “Archuleta County does not want to be in the business of providing public health services for ourselves.”

Public health departments focus on communitywide health issues, such as communicable diseases, emergency preparedness, water and air quality as opposed to individual medical care that is provided in doctor’s offices and clinics.

In order to take effect, the resolution requires approval from both boards. While Archuleta County approved the resolution Tuesday, it appeared before the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners Wednesday. The outcome of their vote was not known by presstime.