Douglas County proceeds with possible new health department

Step one is a community health assessment

Elliott Wenzler
ewenzler@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/2/21

Douglas County will soon begin a community health assessment and a public health improvement plan as it presses forward with the possibility of splitting from the Tri-County Health Department. The …

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Douglas County proceeds with possible new health department

Step one is a community health assessment

Posted

Douglas County will soon begin a community health assessment and a public health improvement plan as it presses forward with the possibility of splitting from the Tri-County Health Department.

The assessment and plan, which are a requirement for any public health department, are intended to help commissioners understand more about public health needs in the county before they officially decide if they will make a county-specific department.

Commissioners learned about these next steps and detailed information about Tri-County's operations during a June 28 meeting with their local public health working group.

In February, commissioners formed the group — made up of county staff — to investigate the possibility of leaving Tri-County. 

The county started considering forming a new public health department several months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioners initially said they would leave this summer but after reaching an agreement with Tri-County that allowed for more local control in public health orders, they decided to stay until at least 2023.

If the county does choose to form its own health department, the statutorily required community health assessment and public health improvement plan will already be completed. 

Health Management Associates, the company chosen to complete the assessment, said during the meeting it expects both the plan and the assessment to be completed by the end of the year.

The assessment will look at what health problems exist in the community, who is impacted by those problems and what risk factors lead to them, said Shannon Breitzman with Health Management Associates. A recommendation on how to implement the improvement plan will also be expected by the end of the year.

Jennifer Ludwig, the deputy director for Tri-County, shared during the meeting that the health department is working with Adams and Arapahoe counties to determine what direction they want to go if Douglas County splits off. 

“Adams and Arapahoe need to decide if we go forward as a two-county health department,” Ludwig said.

Tri-County hopes to also have a plan in place for their health department moving forward by the end of the year so it has a full year to transition.

“These are really critical decisions and we want to be as strategic as possible,” Ludwig said.

Existing department details

County staff presented the commissioners with information on Tri-County's structure, showing details and considerations for each service and how it could work with a new department. The presentation also included the breakdown of how much of Tri-County's services are used by Douglas County.

Nearly 75% of the health department's work goes toward nursing, environmental health and nutrition, according to the presentation. Other services researched and discussed by staff include vital records, family health services, behavioral health, water and food inspections and emergency preparedness.

For many of these departments, the staff suggested ways that the services could either be added to the duties of the county's existing departments or contracted out to organizations, such as nonprofits.

Some staff offered possible advantages for creating a new health department, including county-specific data and adding new, cutting-edge services to local public health systems.

The county commissioners could choose to appoint a local public health advisory board now to help guide the process, said Barbara Drake, the county staff member leading the project. The board members wouldn't necessarily be members of a future public board of health.

Another public meeting on the topic will be in September.

“We will strategically leverage all of our communication assets to ensure that everyone who wants to be notified about and engage in this public process will have the opportunity to do so,” said Wendy Holmes, the county's communications and public affairs director, during the meeting.

The county hopes to have town halls, email notifications about future meetings on the topic and a web page for all agendas and documents on the process. Holmes also hopes to livestream the meetings so they can be watched and reviewed later, she said.

In comments following the meeting, Commissioner Abe Laydon compared the county's exploration of a new health department to a teenager getting ready to leave home for the first time.

“It's tough, but you realize that they're big enough and independent enough that they may need to chart their own course,” he said. “It's with gratitude and dedication to local control that we will continue to look at these documents thoughtfully.”

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