Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

Health official questions legislation

Bill would change how county health boards operate

By Leslie Gartrell
WAPAKONETA - An Auglaize County health official on Tuesday at the Ohio Statehouse spoke out against legislation health officials have said would drastically change how boards of health are run.
Auglaize County Health Department board of health president Dr. Dan Harpster spoke at the State and Local Government Committee Meeting regarding House Bill 463.
Introduced by Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, the legislation would repeal sections of the Ohio Revised Code to eliminate district advisory councils (DACs) for health districts and transfer their duties and responsibilities to boards of county commissioners.
District advisory councils appoint board of health members and bring concerns and recommendations on health issues to the board's attention. The Auglaize County DAC, which meets annually, consists of the chair of each township's board of trustees, the mayor of each municipality and the president of the Auglaize County Board of Commissioners.
The legislation also would change who can serve on boards of health. Boards of health have five members and at least one member is required to be a licensed physician. Often, those who serve on boards of health have backgrounds and experience in public health, medicine and related fields.
For example, Auglaize County's board of health is made up of Thomas Freytag, who has served as county coroner and as a family medicine practitioner; Harpster, a retired veterinarian; Kim Prueter, executive director at Elmwood Assisted Living; Charlotte Axe, a former 23-year health department employee who retired in 2018; and Kay Schmiesing, a former nurse.
Under the proposed legislation, the board would consist of one licensed physician, one county commissioner or representative, one person representing the boards of township trustees, one person representing municipal corporations and one person representing the school districts, according to the legislation.
The legislation also proposes health district budgets would be required to go through a budget hearing and approval process before county commissioners.
"I want to emphasize about the role and connection between our district advisory committee. Looking at the accountability between the board of health, the health department and the DAC, everything is transparent and open and available to the public," Harpster said during his remarks at the statehouse Tuesday morning. "We recognize not every (health) district is the same. However, if it's not broke, don't fix it.
In veterinary medicine, the key motto is above all else, do no harm. Ladies and gentlemen, we're concerned at the Auglaize County Health Department and the board of health that we're going to do more harm than good through House Bill 463," Harpster said.
Harpster has served on the board of health for 17 years.
Health commissioner Oliver Fisher said he suspects the legislation is likely a knee-jerk reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that were put in place to stem its spread.
Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, during Tuesday's session at the statehouse asked Harpster why health departments should be regulated by a district advisory council when other county services - sheriff's departments, fairgrounds, etc. - don't require the same amount of representation.
Stewart also questioned Harpster why small townships get the same representation as larger political subdivisions on DACs when other towns or villages contribute more money to the health department.
Political subdivisions contribute yearly to health departments to receive services, and contributions are based on land valuations.
"How much closer - when it's farmground, when it's country - can we get to (representation) than the township trustees?" Harpster replied. "I think if we look at it from the 50,000-foot view, at the end of the day if we follow the funding, and we look as close to local oversight (as possible), I think that will serve us well."
Board of health members during their Tuesday meeting also,
• renewed the contract of medical director Dr. Juan Torres for one year at a rate of $10,000 per year.
• approved amendments to board of health by-laws regarding public participation at board meetings.
The next board of health meeting is 8:30 a.m. June 14 in the board conference room in Wapakoneta.
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