Southeast Utah Health Department (SEUHD) employees and the Grand County Council discussed the “on-the-ground” implications for local public health if Carbon and Emery leave the district during the Oct. 3 council meeting. Carbon and Emery counties have threatened to leave the SEUHD by year’s end if they cannot work out issues they say relate to the Board of Health.
The SEUHD — consisting of Carbon, Emery and Grand counties — provides many programs to the tri-county area, including health education, environmental health services, and low-income medical services. School nurses, suicide prevention efforts, immunizations, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program are all under the department’s purview.
In addition to state and federal funding, which are roughly population and geographically based, the SEUHD relies on local county contributions.
As the largest population in the health district, Carbon County contributes the most to the department’s budget, giving $128,891 in 2017.
With roughly similar populations, Emery County contributed $95,535 to the department’s budget in 2017 and Grand County contributed $77,364.
If Carbon and Emery counties leave the SEUHD, interim health officer Bradon Bradford told the Grand County Council that some funding streams would be affected.
“With the potential withdrawal of Carbon County, it would result in Grand County being the smallest health department in the state,” Bradford said. “The [funding] formulas currently are very unfavorable to that sort of a situation. There would be the need to hire at least two additional employees in order to meet the minimum performance standards that are required out of the health department.”
Bradford implied Grand County could suffer a gap in public health services as a result of the departure.
“In our WIC program, the dietician that’s required to advise mothers and their children and get them through that critical period of time, would not be available, at least immediately available,” Bradford said.
He added that an employee would need training on cancer screening, environmental health would need supplemental assistance, and Grand County would require trained health promotion staff, who deal with issues like tobacco control, chronic injuries, and opiate addiction.
“There would be some months … of transition that would be difficult,” Bradford said.
Environmental health scientist Orion Rogers told Grand County’s representatives that employees across all three counties work well together. It would be “years,” Rogers said, for Grand County to build a functioning health department on its own.
“We are able to provide services but only because we have the support from those other two counties,” Rogers told the county council. “We have a functioning health department, we have a functioning team. This team works. We’re providing public health services; we’re protecting public health. If we go break this off, I think it would be years before we have a functioning health department that was able to provide all those services.”
But council member Evan Clapper noted Grand County does not want to dissolve the district.
“I haven’t heard any interest in Grand County dissolving this,” Clapper said.
Grand County representatives have said they don’t completely understand Carbon and Emery’s reasoning for leaving the SEUHD, as neither county discussed their decision-making process before the Southeast Utah Board of Health.
The board is made up of three representatives from each county — one elected official and two citizen members — and is responsible for setting the budget and policies for the health department.
Carbon County Commissioner Jake Mellor, who serves as a representative on the board, spoke before the Grand County Council Oct. 2. Although he said that Carbon and Emery counties would “love” to continue to work with Grand County, he described eight months of “distraction” on the board.
“I’m not going to say that any county is without blame in regards to that,” Mellor said. “However, as other commissioners and other county members have been involved in the process of the board of health they feel that the current board is de-sensitized to the dysfunction of the board and that we have been distracted on a number of things that have kept us from the overall purpose of public health.”
Mellor described failed subcommittees, “micromanaging,” and the hiring process of a new health officer, which he described as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“Seven months of a hiring process we have been unable to replace a director which is longer than any other health department in Utah,” Mellor said.
Elected officials from Emery, Carbon, and Grand counties will meet Oct. 6 to discuss the future of the SEUHD. The meeting is private, as all counties were instructed by Carbon County Attorney Christian Bryner — who also serves as legal counsel to the board – to bring “less than a quorum” to attend.
Grand County Council Chairwoman Jaylyn Hawks, who also serves as a representative to the board, said she is “happy” to attend the meeting between the commissioners and council members. However, she said she would prefer the board to work through their issues together, not only commission members in a private meeting.
“I am happy to go to a commissioner [or] county meeting to talk,” Hawks said. “But…we have taken the conversation away from the board where it belongs. I have full confidence in the board of health, the people on that board, that they can work through these issues if specific things are brought forth.”
More information regarding the SEUHD can be found in the Sept. 28 issue of The Times-Independent, “Health district tumult has Carbon, Emery threatening to leave.”