Merging the departments is complicated process
By William K. Alcorn
The results of Tuesday’s election, because it will include a new mayor, could impact discussions on merging the Youngstown and Mahoning County health departments.
Outgoing Mayor Charles Sammarone has said the city is open to discussion of expanding its services via contract, but the goal of talks between the city and county health boards over the past two years has been consolidation as a more efficient way of providing public health services.
Sammarone, however, did not seek re-election, and his successor may have a different position on the matter.
The six mayoral candidates are John A. McNally IV, DeMaine Kitchen, John M. Crea, Frank Bellamy, Claudette Moore and Cecil Monroe.
The county board of health, in a recent wide-ranging discussion with assistant county prosecutor Tim Tusek about the potential and challenges of merging the two public health departments, said it would not recommend a course of action regarding a merger to its General Health District Advisory Council until the Youngstown mayor-elect’s stand on the matter is known.
Tusek is the county board’s legal adviser.
The advisory council, made up of representatives from townships served by the county health department, ultimately has to decide, said Donald A. Somers, county health board member.
“From the county board’s perspective, in terms of community health, it [consolidation] would be a good thing to do. But, after the election, we would need a commitment from the city to go forward,” Somers said.
Consolidation is a difficult process with many challenges, Tusek added.
The initial challenge would be to determine what services the city health board provides Youngstown residents, he said.
Another key issue, Tusek said, is what happens to employees in both departments.
For instance, do sanitarians have the same responsibilities and wages in both departments?
Other questions that need to be answered would be how a combined city and county health district would be funded; what would be the makeup of a merged board and who would appoint its members; and where would its facilities be located.
“It would all be up for negotiation,” Tusek said.
Contracting for services also remains an option.
The county board has contracts with Campbell and Struthers to provide public health services.
“It’s easier than consolidation, and the people get the services. You need to keep both balls in the air; but whatever is done should raise the level of service,” Tusek said.
The most-important thing that came from the meeting is the commitment to improve public health services for the entire county. “The question is what is the best way to do it,” Tusek said.
“I think a single health district for the entire county is a good thing. I think we need it to improve community health,” said Patricia Sweeney, county health commissioner.