Health department might ‘go away’ as counties implement bill

Following a joint executive session between the Archuleta County and La Plata County boards of county commissioners March 5, it appears the boards will continue exploring ways to cooperatively implement SB-194 — state legislation that will likely bring changes to the structure and function of the San Juan Basin Health Department.

Although Archuleta County Commissioner and board chair Bob Moomaw would not discuss the details of the executive session, he said, “The two boards, I feel, are very committed to working together to implement SB 194. Certainly, I can’t speak for them, but the tone of the meeting was very positive.”

La Plata County Commissioner and board chair Kellie Hotter struck a similar chord.

“I think the meeting went very well, it was cooperative in nature,” Hotter said.

Governor Bill Ritter signed the Colorado Public Health Re-organization Act (also called SB-194) into law June, 4, 2008.

The legislation 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 that county governments 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.

Currently, Archuleta County and La Plata County already jointly fund, along with government grants, a district health agency — the San Juan Basin Health Department. However, with the legislation, Moomaw said the existing health department will, in effect, “go away,” and a new one will take its place. Both boards of county commissioners have final say on how the new department — or departments — take shape.

Until the new health department is formed, either as a solo effort by the two counties, or as joint endeavor, San Juan Basin Health Department continues with the same authority and duties as before.

With the legislative deadline approaching, the act requires both counties to examine how San Juan Basin Health Department does business. In addition the boards must seek answers to questions such as: Is the district, in its present form and function, adequately addressing the public health care needs of the counties it is charged to serve.

In light of the changes facing the department, La Plata County Attorney Sheryl Rogers encouraged Archuleta County commissioners to consider a variety of factors, such as the advantages of pooling resources, whether each county is paying their fair share, whether dollars are being spent effectively, and whether each county’s needs are congruent such that a district option would effectively address the area’s public health needs according to the legislation.

Moomaw said no decisions were made during the March 5 session and both boards will continue to explore their options in the coming weeks.

To that end, La Plata and Archuleta County commissioners will meet with San Juan Basin Health Department board members March 16 at the La Plata County Courthouse.

Hotter said the meeting will include a public presentation with a discussion of the topics explored in the executive session, the counties’ options and strategies for implementing SB-194.

james@pagosasun.com