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Council opposes state meddling in health dept.

SALEM

City council put its opposition to the state’s proposed killing of the city health department in writing Tuesday, citing the department’s invaluable efforts during the pandemic and overall service to citizens.

“The city of Salem strenuously objects to any effort by the state of Ohio to abolish the local Salem City Health Department, and moves that any effort to study the feasibility of dissolving the same or otherwise abolish it be immediately stricken from any state budget proposals,” the resolution said.

Council voted 7-0 to approve the resolution, which noted the state only contributes $3,400 per year towards the city health district’s operation. The city funds the district with a per diem based on the city’s population, plus licensing fees and grants help cover costs.

The city learned last month about the provision in Ohio House Bill 110, which is the state budget bill, to abolish local health departments in cities with a population under 50,000, then learned the abolishment part was removed.

But then the city learned the abolishment was replaced with a clause requiring “a study examining the efficiency and effectiveness of the city health district merging with the general health district of the county in which the city is located.”

City council’s Committee of the Whole discussed the issue just prior to the council meeting, recommending the resolution to oppose the state’s efforts. Mayor John Berlin, who also serves as chairman of the city health district board by virtue of his position, said the true driving force behind the efforts is unknown.

Of 113 local health districts in Ohio, there are only 25 city health districts.

“To try to weed out just 25 health districts defies logic. I don’t know why they’re doing this,” Berlin said.

City Health Commissioner Alanna Stainbrook said the news took all of them by surprise.

“This was really a slap in the face for city health departments,” she said, especially considering all the work done on the local level to battle against COVID-19, from contact tracing and education to administering the vaccine to residents from all over the area, not just the city.

“We have to prove that it is efficient and effective for us to merge with the county. We want to prove it’s not,” she said.

Stainbrook told the committee that city health board member Judy Sicilia prepared written testimony to submit to the Ohio Senate, which is having a hearing on the proposed legislation. She also said that Columbiana County Health Commissioner Wes Vins has been in contact with state Senator Mike Rulli, R-Salem, who she said he indicated is not in favor of the proposal.

She said if the city health district is eliminated, “the access to care is really going to be affected.”

People now can walk to the health department, which is located at the KSU City Center on North Lincoln Avenue. They won’t be able to walk to Lisbon. She said that will especially affect the Guatemalan population in the city whose families use the health department for vaccinations.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey, who chairs Committee of the Whole, said the state has been trying to do this all along, to eliminate local health departments, pointing to the requirement for all local health departments in the state to be accredited.

Out of the 113 local health departments, which includes the 88 county health districts, only 44 departments are accredited. Salem’s health department isn’t accredited yet, but has submitted most of the paperwork and is actually farther ahead in the process than most of the cities.

“What a waste of time, effort and money if they come out with this merging with the county,” Berlin said of the accreditation efforts.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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