Officials work with state on budget

Local health officials remain hopeful that changes will be made to limit the impact of the state’s biennial budget bill.

With the budget bill still in committee for hearings, Auglaize County Health Commissioner Charlotte Parsons said Health Commissioners Association board members have proposed amendments they hope can be included to help limit the impact of proposed changes before the new state fiscal year begins July 1.

“There are a number of problems with it that get bigger and bigger as you think about it,” Parsons said.

Some of the amendments proposed by the Health Commissioners Association include — not requiring full public health accreditation, performing community health assessments less frequently, and making it optional for an executive officer or medical director of a hospital to serve on the health board.

Parsons said adding an executive member to the health board would create problems as another member would have to be added to make membership an odd number for voting.

The Health Commissioners Association is recommending community health assessments be conducted every five years and contends a full public health accreditation is expensive and not necessary.

“There is a lot of contention across the state about this, especially from smaller health departments, that are under stress already and don’t have the financial resources to make this happen,” Parsons said.

Gov. John Kasich has proposed that each county’s health board members would need to have eight hours of continuing education annually and that those hours would have to be specific to the members’ roles on the health board. Training required to maintain their licenses would not count.

A recommendation being made is that the training would be held in connection with health board meetings and be able to be presented in an hour. There is no requirement currently for health board members to receive any training.

“We are asking them to step back and review current rules and see if they are substantial rather than requiring separate certification,” Parsons said of a plan to standardize food sanitation inspections.

Multi-county levies remain an option and the Health Commissioners Association is recommending they stay in the changes, but Parsons said she has questions.

“What happens if one county votes for it and the other votes it down?” Parsons said. “There is still a push for consolidation and mergers.”

She said one of her biggest concerns is moving forward with the regionalization of grants. At this time, any grant from the Ohio Department of Health is to be awarded on a regional basis beginning next year.

“ODH has 1,100 sub-grantees and they want to reduce that and administrative costs as much as possible,” Parsons said.

She said she is concerned that it is being put together too fast without any input from sub-grantees.

“I hope it gets moved back at least a year,” Parsons said.

She said Health Commissioners Association board members also have asked for the restoration of a state subsidy that was reduced by 66 percent, but she isn’t sure that will happen either.

Parsons urged local health board members to talk to their legislators.

She suggested they push for merging in a different way that better provides for the local health departments.

“It has worked this way for 92 years,” Parsons said. “I don’t know that the dollar savings are that much. We are pretty efficient.”

She said the local health department spends just 17 percent of its total costs on administration, a figure she thinks is pretty low.