Merger talks between the Youngstown and Mahoning County health departments could get back on track if the county board’s advisory council approves the idea.
The General Health District Advisory Council, which represents Mahoning County’s townships, is the governing body of the Mahoning County District Board of Health. The advisory council meets in October to vote on the issue, said Patricia Sweeney, county health commissioner.
Youngstown Law Director Anthony J. Farris, in an Aug. 15 letter to Sweeney, indicated that if the county health board is serious about merging the health districts, the first step required by state law is approval by the advisory council.
“After that clear confirmation of the general health district’s commitment to the process is made, we can move on to the additional steps necessary to achieve full consolidation into a single health district,” Farris wrote.
“They have to give us a reason to believe they are serious” about merging the health districts before the city will move forward, Farris said at Monday’s Youngstown District Board of Health meeting.
Sweeney, at a mid-August meeting with Mayor Charles Sammarone and Erin Bishop, acting city health commissioner, explained that her June 6 letter to the city was not intended to reflect a desire to only pursue contracting for services over unification of the health districts.
Rather, Sweeney said the contract she referred to is one between the city and county health board as part of the unification process as described in state law.
At the time, Sammarone said the city health district is open to discussion of expanding its services via contract, as has been done in the past. The mayor said, however, the goal of talks between the city and county health board over the past two years has been consolidation.
“Our goal should remain, as it has always been, to achieve full consolidation. The people deserve a concerted effort to promote achievement of a more- efficient means of providing service,” Sammarone said.
Sweeney said the county board of health and its advisory council never have said they don’t want one health department for the county. They have said, “Let’s take it to the next step.”
State law provides two ways to merge: A vote by the electorate or a contract negotiated by the entities to provide health services together and provide a single voice for public health in the county, Sweeney said.
The goal is making sure there is the same level of public-health services across the county and ensuring that city and county governing bodies are clear on the objectives and on the process and are comfortable in knowing their issues will be heard, she added.