Initial response positive for forming five-county public health system
By Amy Chaffins
Pope County Tribune
Commissioners and staff from Stevens, Traverse, Grant, Pope and Douglas counties came together to discuss the idea of forming a five-county public health service.
The group met Friday at the Hoffman Community Center.
Currently, Stevens, Traverse and Grant counties operate as a joint public health board -- Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health.
The director of STG resigned in August, and Douglas County's director, Sandy Tubbs, was hired to administer STG on an interim basis.
Stevens County Commissioner Larry Sayre requested that STG and officials from Douglas and Pope county meet to discuss a merger before STG began recruiting a new director.
No county committed to anything on Friday, but the STG board asked that Pope and Douglas representatives talk about it with their boards and respond by Oct. 29 to indicate if there's any interest in continuing a feasibility conversation.
The concept of counties partnering to form joint agencies is nothing new.
In the 1970s, the legislature created the Community Health Services Act, which provided incentives for counties that banded together to create community health boards.
During Friday's meeting, Douglas County Administrator Bill Schalow told the room of 38 people that state funds are dwindling and county leaders are asking how they'll continue to provide services with fewer dollars.
He said forming a multi-county public health service is something the counties need to do.
"We'll still exist as separate counties, but we really need to explore the opportunity of partnership, pooling dollars, and enhancing opportunities to get more dollars by forming partnerships," Schalow said. "This is a very good thing. (Counties) need to become partners with state. The more they see us as partners, the more likely we are to get the money."
Stevens County Coordinator Jim Thoreen, who also works as the STG Human Resources Director, said Friday's meeting was an opportunity to get county leaders thinking about whether or not they're interested.
"If you're thinking right now that you're not interested and it's not something you want to pursue, we need to know that," Thoreen said. "Then, we'll get on with business as usual and move on to recruiting and hiring a director."
The Stevens County Board of Commissioners addressed the issue at its meeting Tuesday. See story on Page 2.