Counties create new health dept. board

The La Plata and Archuleta County Boards of County Commissioners voted unanimously May 27 to dissolve the existing San Juan Basin Health Department Board and adopt a new board structure. The move, the commissioners say, is necessary to expeditiously and efficiently fulfill the requirements of SB-194 — also called the Colorado Public Health Re-organization Act.

Governor Bill Ritter signed the act into law June, 4, 2008, requiring county governments, 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 in 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.

According to the commissioners’ vote, the new San Juan Basin Health Department board will consist of seven members named by an appointment committee consisting of Kellie C. Hotter, La Plata County board chair, and Bob Moomaw, Archuleta County board chair. The new health department board structure will include one La Plata County commissioner, one Archuleta County commissioner, two members recommended by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners, two members recommended by the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners and one jointly recommended member.

At the May 27 session, the two boards agreed they would recommend their respective county managers — Shawn Nau, La Plata County, and Greg Schulte, Archuleta County — to serve one-year terms. The remaining three members will be selected from interested members of the public.

Critics of the reformation have said the La Plata County board has used the legislation as cover to politicize the board. Moreover, they argue that county commissioners or bureaucrats may not have the necessary qualifications to lead the health department, and — due to the political make-up of the board — may not always act with the public’s health in mind.

In response to the criticism, Moomaw said some of the health department’s past board members may be considered for reappointment. Aside from commissioner representation, the board, prior to the May 27 dissolution, consisted of Dr. Mark Wienpahl, board chair; Bob Ledger, vice chair; Patrick O’Brien, secretary-treasurer; J.T. Coyne and Karen Zink.

Moomaw said new appointees will be announced during a joint meeting between the Archuleta County and La Plata County Boards of County Commissioners Friday at 2 p.m. The meeting will be held in La Plata County.

james@pagosasun.com