DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Besides issuing orders requiring masks in public, do you know what your local health department does?
"We have over 60 programs. Oh, I guess we're most well-known for our restaurant inspections," said Mellissa Sager, Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Manager for Tri-County Health Department.
- Restaurant inspections
- Birth and death certificates
- WIC - Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
- Mental health promotion
- Substance abuse prevention
- Suicide prevention
- Tobacco use prevention
- Swimming pool inspections
- Syringe exchange programs
- HIV/Hepatitis testing
Colorado's state statute gives counties the authority to provide these programs. How they're provided, though, is determined by a local board of health, with members appointed by county commissioners.
"There are three members from each county, and they're appointed by the county commissioners, so we have one Board of Health, they just come from three separate counties," said Sager.
In Tri-County, there are nine board members; three appointed by Adams County Commissioners, three from Arapahoe County and three from Douglas County. Any decision requires a majority, five members, to agree, like Wednesday's mask order.
At that meeting, Tri-County's executive director Dr. John Douglas recommended a mask order for Adams County and Aurora, but suggested Arapahoe County and Douglas County could opt-in. In a 5-4 vote, the board initiative a mask order for all three counties.
"All of a sudden, the board of health did do a masking order, which was not in following what the expert had asked them to do," said Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas. "This board of health has demonstrated they are not going to follow what the expert tells them to do, what are they going to do next?"
On Wednesday afternoon, the Douglas County Commissioners posted a notice of a special meeting to be held on Thursday to discuss the mask order. After the meeting, which no member of the public attended, the commissioners decided to give notice to Tri-County that it would create its own Douglas County board of health.
"The county did a study in 2004, to see what it looked like to create our own health department, so we can show people we've had these discussions for many years, this isn't just something we did snap, crackle, pop," said Thomas.
Tri-County Health was Tri-County District when it opened in 1948 with Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson Counties participating. In 1958, Jefferson County left to create its own health department. The name remained Tri-County District. In 1965, after receiving help following the South Platte River floods, Douglas County joined Tri-County.
"When Douglas County joined Tri-County health in 1965, the population of Douglas County was less than 5,000. Today, it's 370,000," said Thomas. "This is a way to meet the needs of our citizens, while having control of the board."
Douglas County doesn't want to reinvent the wheel, however. It wants to create its own five-member health board that will make decisions to be implemented by Tri-County Health, which Douglas County would want to contract with.
When asked why not create an entire health department, instead of just a health board, Thomas said the county isn't upset with the services it receives, just the decision-makers.
"We've never said we weren't pleased with the services that Dr. Douglas and his staff area providing to us," said Thomas.
"Any county with more than 100,000 residents has to have a board of health and a separate public health agency, and it's so that it really is separate from elected officials," said Sager.
Even if Douglas County creates its own board of health, if there were ever a situation it, or any other county is unwilling or unable to respond to, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment can swoop in and make an overriding decision.
"Based on our statewide authority, or a request from a local or district board of health or public health agency, Colorado Dept. of Public Health Environment (CPDHE) can take enforcement actions as needed to enforce public health laws and orders. CDPHE makes every effort to work in coordination with counties and local public health agencies on disease control and enforcement matters," a spokeswoman for CDPHE said in a statement.
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