Consolidation of health entities more essential today than ever

Lost in the political tusnami of the presidential election was the story of the Youngstown Health Department’s incompetence and dysfunction that should prompt Mayor Charles Sammarone to double his effort to bring about a consolidation of the city and county health agencies.

On Nov. 1, The Vindicator published a story that said the Ohio Department of Health was threatening to disband the city health department’s food-service operation inspection program because of its failure to conduct food establishment inspections as often as required.

The program’s deficiencies must be corrected b y March 1 or a “proposal for disapproval” would be issued by the state. That could lead to the department losing its authority to license and inspect food establishments.

This isn’t the only black eye the city agency has received this year. In September, the Ohio Department of Health issued an audit finding for recovery of $88,104.08 due to inadequate documentation in 2010 in the local HIV/AIDs Prevention and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control programs. The department has appealed the findings.

Mayor Sammarone, who has made consolidation of the city and county health departments a priority, has been in office since August 2011 and is of the opinion that duplication of public services is the curse of government.

While the county board of health doesn’t share Sammarone’s enthusiasm for consolidation of the health agencies, there is reason for cautious optimism.

Potential problems

A consultant has been hired to identify the potential problems inherent in combining the two public entities. The Wean Foundation has provided $3,000 to pay for the study, which will be presented to the public health shared services committee.

The panel will determine whether the problems identified by the consultant can be solved — and at what cost.

The individual conducting the evaluation performed a similar task in Summit County that resulted in consolidation of the county and city of Akron health departments.

Sammarone has made it clear that he isn’t trying to palm off a department that is not performing up to the standard he has set for city government.

He was successful in persuading the county commissioners to have the building inspection division operate in the city — for a fee.

Sammarone also wants to pursue consolidation of the 911 telephone emergency system, which has been talked about for many years.

The Youngstown Department of Health receives $2.67 million from the general fund and an additional $888,803 in grants. At the beginning of the year it had 24 full-time employees and four part-timers.

The Mahoning County District Board of Health consists of various villages and townships that are not incorporated as a city health district. The chief executive officer of each political subdivision serves on the district advisory council, which meets each March to appoint the members of the county board of health. The board is responsible for selecting the health commissioner.

In other words, the decision on consolidation must come from individuals who do not answer to the commissioners, who are elected countywide.

Sources of revenue

The health district had a budget of $6.3 million a couple of years ago and a work force of 48. It receives no county general fund money, but is financed by property tax inside millage, fees, revenue from contracts and federal and state grants. It has contracts with Canfield, Campbell and Struthers to operate their health systems.

Summit County is proof of that having one system is practical and cost effective. It has declared the effort a success.

Matthew Stefanak, who retired this year as Mahoning County health commissioner after many years in office, is an advocate of consolidation.

The advisory council has a chance to strike a blow for good government when it meets in March. We urge the adoption of a plan to make the city and county health districts one.

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