City/county health department merger discussed

By William K. Alcorn


The idea of consolidating the Youngstown City and Mahoning County public health departments is still alive, but unlikely to happen any time soon.

Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting of the joint consolidation planning committee, is “very much in favor of moving forward,” said Anthony Farris, the city’s law director.

Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti described the meeting as a start toward serious discussions about how the Youngstown City Health District and the Mahoning County District Board of Health can share services.

Now, she said, the health commissioners and their department heads and board members need to brainstorm about how it could be accomplished.

“I joined the city health board so Youngstown residents could get the services they need,” said Artis Gillam Sr. He said he is concerned that Youngstown would be neglected if the departments consolidate.

Patricia Sweeney, county health commissioner, said though the conversation has centered on consolidation, there are other ways for the two departments to share providing services. These can be looked at more quickly than consolidation can occur, she said.

The bottom line, said both city and township representatives who receive public health services from the county health board, is will one end up financially supporting the other?

The person with answers to some of the questions raised at the meeting was Gene Nixon, Summit County public health commissioner, who led the recent merger of the Akron city, Barberton and Summit County health departments.

Nixon said the questions raised at Tuesday’s meeting were many of the same ones that came up during the Summit County merger process: How would the staffs be brought together with different job descriptions and pay scales, some unionized and some not; would there be layoffs; where would facilities be located.

But the basic question was will the Akron city money stay in Akron and will the other political subdivisions’ money stay at home, Nixon said.

He said he was not selling consolidation; that should be a local decision.

But he did warn that it is a long, complicated, frustrating process, and acknowledged that while it has turned out well and has proved to reduce costs and improve efficiency in Summit County, there were times during the process when he thought it would not happen.

Based on that experience, Nixon made several recommendations if the two local health departments decide to go forward with consolidation.

Among them are that both health boards have to support it, and it is important to have a “champion,” a community leader with integrity and clout to lead the way and provide confidence in the process.

Finally, Nixon said, the fundamental question of “why?” has to be answered: Is it a good idea for the community? Would merging enhance efficiency and increase the capacity to provide services?

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