A small, but important, step in uniting of health agencies

Although the OHIO Department of Health has reduced an audit finding for recovery from the Youngstown Health Department by a sizable amount, Mayor Charles Sammarone is as determined as ever to bring about a consolidation of the city and Mahoning County health agencies before he leaves office in December.

Sammarone, a veteran city officeholder and retired city educator, has said that Youngstown’s five-year financial forecast is not rosy, which is why he is committed to reducing the cost of government.

However, consolidation of the health agencies have proved to be a tough nut to crack. But, there may be a slight opening in the protective cover that is the status quo.

The Canton City Health Department, which administers the area HIV/STD program, has terminated its contract for services with Youngstown and awarded the program to the Mahoning County District Board of Health.

Four months ago, 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 Youngstown agency appealed the findings.

Last week, the state reduced the findings for recovery to $4,219 after it received the necessary documentation from the city. Erin Bishop, acting health commissioner, explained that the expenditures questioned by the state were for “time-and-effort” items such as services provided and the time and cost required to deliver them.

As for the new amount owed, Bishop said she will asked the state health department if a portion of its subsidy to the city can be used to pay off the balance.

But, the reduction of the findings does not change the awarding of the HIV/STD program to the county health agency.

One full-time and one part-time employee in the Youngstown agency were terminated by the board of health.

Summit County

The county’s takeover of the program gives Mayor Sammarone the opportunity to step up his pursuit of a city-county consolidated health district, similar to the one in Summit County. The consultant who studied the Akron-Summit County combination is the same one who has been retained by the Mahoning County Board of Health to explore consolidation, with an eye to identifying the problems inherent in joining the two entities.

The public health shared services committee will study the findings to determine if such a move makes practical and economic sense.

Youngstown’s mayor has gone to great lengths to assure county officials that he isn’t trying to get rid of an agency that is not performing up to the standard he has set for city government.

He firmly believes, as we do, that governments in the Mahoning Valley can no longer embrace a business-as-usual attitude. With money from Columbus and Washington hard to get, and taxpayers demanding a bigger bang for their dollars, elected officials must find new ways of providing basic services.

That said, the problems that have plagued the Youngstown health district do point to major operational deficiencies.

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