Sanitarians shortage bolsters case for merger of health units

“Consolidation of health entities more essential than ever.”

That was the headline for an editorial we published Dec. 2 about the necessity to merge the Youngstown and Mahoning County health departments.

In light of the latest news coming out of the Youngstown agency, we offer an additional “more” to the headline. The emphasis reflects the urgency with which we view this important issue.

In December, it was the department’s incompetence and dysfunction that prompted us to urge Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone to redouble his efforts to bring about a consolidation of the city and county health agencies.

Today, it’s the scramble to find at least two sanitarians to conduct inspections of food-service operations. The Youngstown City Health District, as it is formally called, has just two full-time environmental health sanitarians, but a March analysis of the department’s needs says at least 4.192 full-time equivalent environmental sanitarians are needed.

The analysis was conducted by the Ohio Department of Health, the very agency that threatened last November to disband the district’s food-service operation inspection program.

The state had found that the city agency failed to conduct food establishment inspections as often as required. A March 1 deadline was set for correction of the deficiencies. Failure to meet the deadline would result in a “proposal for disapproval,” the state warned.

That could have led to the district’s losing its authority to license and inspect food establishments.

Sammarone, who took over as mayor when Jay Williams left to join the Obama administration, and will be stepping down at the end of the year, has made consolidation of the city and county health districts a priority.

His message to the county officials has been clear from the outset: Youngstown isn’t spoiling for a fight, nor is city government interested in protecting jobs. The goal, the mayor has said, is for health care services to be provided by the county district.

We have long advocated consolidation as a way of dealing with today’s reality of declining revenues and a decrease in state and federal funding.

The public health shared services committee has been studying the merger issue and has received a study from a consultant paid for with a $3,000 grant from the Wean Foundation.

Summit County

The same consultant performed a study on the possible merger of the Summit County and the city of Akron health departments. Today, there is a single agency.

What’s holding Mahoning County back? Sammarone has been clear that his goal is to disband the city health department and make the county district the provider of health services.

As the officials in Summit County have shown, it’s simply a matter of deciding that consolidation is the way to go because that’s what the taxpayers are demanding from governments at all levels.

The mayor also wants the city’s and county’s 911 emergency telephone services merged. That, too, should be a no-brainer.

Sammarone has seven months left, and we would urge him to not let this opportunity for changing the way government operates pass him by.

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