05/24/12 — Health board change options getting look

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Health board change options getting look

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 24, 2012 1:46 PM

A proposed legislative bill to consolidate county health services under the jurisdiction of the county commissioners would be an option and not a mandate, County Manager Lee Smith told the Wayne County Board of Health.

He attended Wednesday's meeting to field any questions about Senate Bill 433, which could potentially change the makeup of county boards of health.

"There are a lot of questions in the bill that myself and the county attorney have concerns about," he said. "The thing I take issue with the bill to some degree is combining health and DSS (Department of Social Services) and you have to be really careful when you say combining health and human services.

"It depends on what your community looks like. It's an option, you have to remember, it's not a mandate."

The concept of consolidating or regionalizing services has long been bandied about, with the exception of mental health, something Smith stressed, "ain't gonna happen."

Mental health is a different entity, he said, with agencies like Eastpointe already poised to expand to a 12-county region later this summer.

Ultimately, the board of commissioners is interested in looking at what best works for Wayne County.

"Read the bill," he said. "There's some things in it, I know there are some exemptions in it that give me pause. ... There are options in the bill itself. I think it's just something that we have to take a look at."

Smith said he has had several discussions with the new health director, Davin Madden, who took the reins last month.

"I'm staying close to it, just watching what's going on in legislation," Madden told the board.

The original bill has gone through many revisions since being filed in March 2011. It is currently in its fourth version.

"Would the current bill abolish (the) board of health?" board member Tommy Gibson asked.

"No," replied Smith. "It gives us the option."

"Who would make that decision?" Gibson said.

Smith said that could fall to the county commissioners, who would have the authority to appoint members and to oversee the board.

Board member Robert Cagle III said he understands the need for cost-effectiveness but hopes wisdom will prevail.

"My first concern, I want to make sure that whatever is done is in the best interest of the people we serve, that the Health Department serves," he said. "I feel like whatever we do is in the best interest of the residents of Wayne County, that we know what we're going into before we jump."

Smith said throughout his 26 years as a county manager, this issue has been a recurrent one.

"I don't remember a year without a discussion about why don't they consolidate health and human services," he said. "It's got to be what's right and to serve the community first."

Cagle suggested the board "make an educated decision" on the matter.

Smith agreed that the choice should ultimately be made locally rather than be handed down by legislators in Raleigh.

"Over the next few weeks, this thing could change," he said, referring to the current short session of the legislature. "Until the gavel slams and they go home, a lot could happen."