Long-term stability, costs, oversight are concerns
By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners heard from a dozen members of the public about their proposal for a smaller Board of Health at their hearing on Monday (Oct. 5). Speakers favored a larger board with more representation from the cities and the health profession, according to County Commissioner Ray Campbell.
The commissioners have suggested the board consist of the three commissioners, a mayor or city councilmember, and a representative from the medical or environmental health community. They say that restructuring the board would recognize the county’s responsibility for the cost of public health services.
The county currently has a six-person board, but there have been two vacancies since job changes at the city level a few months ago made the two board members ineligible to serve.
The commissioners have not made a decision about the board. They plan to look at the suggestions from the public and Public Health staff and make sure their board charter aligns with state law, said Campbell.
While the current discussion is focused on the make-up of the board, the county’s Public Health district has come under scrutiny since the district nearly depleted its reserve fund to cover basic expenses last year. The health district, which is funded by state and federal grants, license fees and the county, often draws on its reserve fund to bridge gaps in cash flow, according to Ella Robbins, administrative coordinator for the district.
After the borrowing, the commissioners became concerned about the long-term stability of Public Health, said County Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy. Some employees at Public Health say budget cuts and the late adoption of a fee schedule for licenses contributed to the cash-flow problem.
The Board of Health has administrative and fiscal oversight of the Public Health district. Oversight of medical matters is handled by the district’s health officer.
Half of the reserve fund has been replenished through monthly furlough days by the Public Health employees, said Robbins.
The commissioners closed public comment on the health charter and will take up the matter again on Oct. 12.