Health Dept. still worried about state cuts, rules

LISBON – Concerned about how some parts of the new state budget will affect the Columbiana County General Health District, Health Commissioner Wesley Vins expressed some of the bigger issues to the board on Wednesday.

Vins himself had gone to Columbus to testify before legislators months before the budget passed. He said they seemed to agree with him about his concerns, but still went ahead with some of those same parts of the budget.

The state’s budget is creating a 63 percent reduction in local health district funding Vins said.

One of the big concerns, Vins said, is a new provision which forces local health departments to become accredited. As a condition of receiving funding from the Ohio Department of Health, the budget will require local health departments to apply for accreditation by July 1, 2018 and be approved for accreditation by July 1, 2020. Additionally, the director of health needs to evaluate the general health district’s reported public health quality indicators prior to July 1, 2016.

According to Vins, accreditation will cost the health department about $100,000 and numerous man hours preparing between 300 and 400 pages of required documents. The cost is about half of the total general fund budget of the Columbiana County General Health District.

Vins said accreditation will required the supervisors of the department to work together preparing the application, which will in turn take time away from their regular jobs serving the public. Lori Barnes, who heads the departments environmental division, usually spends a lot of her time doing inspections and meeting with contractors. Barbara Knee, who heads the nursing division, works as a nurse giving immunizations and screenings.

“We have limited staff and resources,” Vins said. “We are as lean as you can get and still meet the core health standards. These things are going to make our job more difficult.”

Another part of the bill will allow the Ohio Department of Health to make decisions requiring general health districts and city health districts to enter into agreements to share services. This would take the decision making out of the hands of the local board.

Finally, the budget provisions include a requirement for board members to obtain two hours of accredited continuing education. Vins and the members of the board discussed the question of where the courses will be offered, who will offer them and who will be making the decision of which classes count and which do not. Vins suggested maybe the state department of health could produce DVDs or web conference classes for board members to take.

In other matters before the board:

– Knee reported statistics show of those youngsters coming to the county health department, 95 percent of those 2-year-olds are up to date with all the required immunizations by 24 months of age.

– Robert Zehentbauer, who heads the public health emergency preparedness program, congratulated Knox Township trustees and Trustee Greg Carver for obtaining new tornado sirens for their area. The sirens have already been activated once during recent stormy weather. Zehentbauer said the trustees pursued the sirens for some time and it took combining several different resources in order to accomplish the project.

– The board awarded a bid to B.L. Hartley for $20,055 to install two leachfields and alter a third home septic system. The homes being assisted are on Clement Way, Fisher Road and Leetonia Road.

– The board approved an agreement with the City of Steubenville to help each other when plumbing inspections need to be completed and either the county or the city do not have someone readily available. Vins said the health department is required to provide the inspections within 72 hours of the request. When inspectors go on vacation or have illnesses, the entities can rely on each other to fulfill the needed inspection. Time and mileage will be billed to the department. The county health department has similar agreements with other entities.

– The board hired Martin Construction to do some updates at the cancer clinic, such as painting, flooring and other small remodeling issues.