Skagit County public well being leaders are skeptical of a invoice being thought of by the state Legislature that will create regional well being districts. They worry the lack of native management and query the timing of a big change to the state’s public well being system.
Home Invoice 1152, which is working its approach via legislative committees, would set up a piece group to develop a plan to ascertain multicounty public well being districts in an effort to facilitate the sharing of assets between county departments, to guage efficiency and to lift new funding for public well being companies.
County Public Well being Director Jennifer Johnson mentioned nobody in state authorities has advised her what downside this invoice is designed to repair.
“It stays unclear what system downside the invoice proposes to unravel and what are the targets of the options proposed,” Johnson mentioned.
She mentioned she’s involved that giving an excessive amount of authority to regional entities will imply the wants of smaller counties akin to Skagit might get ignored.
“Our opposition is due to the removing of native connections and the administration of public well being in our local people,” she mentioned.
Lastly, Johnson mentioned the center of a pandemic is solely the flawed time to be discussing an enormous change to how public well being is run.
“Our undivided consideration must be on COVID-19,” she mentioned.
Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Samish Island, mentioned she sees the invoice as a possibility to have a dialogue on find out how to construct a public well being system that’s higher ready for future public well being crises.
Lekanoff, one of many co-sponsors of the invoice, mentioned this invoice was proposed by the workplace of Gov. Jay Inslee. She mentioned being a co-sponsor offers her extra affect over the method, and permits her to deliver Skagit County’s issues to the desk.
“Implementation of this invoice will likely be extremely vital,” she mentioned. “They’ve a good friend and a voice within the course of.”
There’s already some proof the county’s issues are being heard, as an alternative invoice that handed via the Home Well being Care and Wellness Committee features a decreased position for the regional well being districts relative to native departments.
Lekanoff mentioned the pandemic has uncovered failures in each state and native public well being infrastructure, and conversations on addressing them ought to start as quickly as attainable.
Whereas she mentioned she has respect for Johnson and for the general public well being division she leads, not all the state’s 35 well being districts are as sturdy.
“I would like to have a look at, holistically, how this invoice will influence the state,” Lekanoff mentioned.
The substitute invoice units a Jan. 1, 2024 timeline for establishing these complete well being districts. Skagit County can be joined with Snohomish, Island, Whatcom and San Juan counties.
Lekanoff mentioned this timeline might be adjusted if public well being leaders want extra time, and she will be able to deliver these issues ahead as deliberations proceed.
District boards can be comprised of native elected officers, tribal representatives, a regional well being officer and well being consultants appointed by Inslee. Current county boards aren’t required to have these with expertise in well being fields.
The invoice additionally requires native boards so as to add tribal, public well being and group stakeholder illustration, and requires state approval to make modifications to their buildings.
Johnson mentioned the substitute invoice is an enchancment over the unique.
She acknowledged native public well being has struggled in the course of the pandemic, however mentioned the invoice as written does not present her how the presence of a regional district would have functioned higher.
“The premise that … it could not have failed if we have been a part of a complete district, I will overtly say that isn’t the case for Skagit County,” Johnson mentioned.
She agrees with the invoice’s premise that public well being is underfunded, however mentioned she does not see why a regional board is critical to generate extra cash.
Members of Skagit County’s current Board of Well being have additionally expressed confusion over the aim of this invoice.
County Commissioner Peter Browning mentioned there are points of public well being that profit from regionalization, akin to psychological well being and substance abuse remedy, however that counties are already collaborating on these points.
“No one is arguing a few of this does not make sense,” he mentioned, however he mentioned the Legislature has nonetheless not conveyed what downside this invoice is designed to repair.
County Commissioner Lisa Janicki, who additionally sits on the county Board of Well being, mentioned she does not see the purpose in including a layer of paperwork to public well being.
“I essentially do not consider there’s effectivity in including one other layer of presidency,” she mentioned.
Additional, she agreed with Johnson’s concern about timing, saying the state must get to the opposite aspect of the pandemic earlier than it could start to guage the efficiency of the present public well being system.
County Board of Public Well being member Aaron Katz, who has intensive expertise in public well being throughout his 32 years as a college member on the College of Washington, disagreed together with his colleagues, saying the board ought to give the invoice a clear-eyed analysis and keep away from discounting it due to a worry of change.
“We ought to be open-minded concerning the trade-offs, and never get too parochial about defending what we’ve,” he mentioned.