Health care may get new chiefs

"After years of being run by the Island County Commissioners, the Island County Health Department's governing board may get some new, mecially savvy members"

“On any given day, the 45-plus employees of the Island County Health Department do dozens of health care services on Whidbey Island — everything from testing wells and sewer systems, counseling expectant mothers, running immunization programs and tracking potential epidemics.Traditionally however, they’ve been governed by a Board of Health that consists entirely of the island’s three county commissioners — commissioners who spend much of their days overseeing road projects, interpreting land-use laws and allocating the county’s budget. Now, some of the island’s health care officials think it’s time for a change. Time for the Board of Health to expand and add some health care professionals to the mix.But County Commissioner Mac McDowell isn’t so sure the board needs to expand.“Someone should tell me what’s wrong with how it’s being run,” McDowell said last week. “Has there been a specific incident, problem areas or decisions that (the Community Health Advisory Board) has not been pleased with? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”The idea of adding medical people to a county’s governing health board is not without precedent. Jefferson and Kittitas counties have both expanded the memberships in their Boards of Health. In April, members of Island County’s Community Health Advisory Board, or CHAB, recommended expanding the Board of Health to seven members. The advisory board is a 29-member board of health care professionals, laymen and students who advise the Board of Health on all matters pertaining to health on the island. The benefits of expansion, say members, would include promoting broader community involvement in public health matters and adding more medical expertise to the Board.“Such expertise can only enhance the Board of Health’s decision making in areas of health policy, health action, revisions of local health rules/regulations and responding to health emergencies,” according to the advisory board’s position paper. Moreover, it could better equip the Board of Health to deal with a rapidly evolving health care system, said Herb McDonald, CHAB member and retired cardiologist.“I think the reason it would improve the Board of Health is because the challenges are changing,” McDonald said. “It isn’t a matter of just checking on drainfields anymore, but of health maintenance for the community and for that, the Board of Health needs some experts … a little more expertise on the deliberative board as well as the advisory board.“It’s not that anything is being done wrong,” McDonald said. “It’s just that things are now being done differently.”County Commissioner Mike Shelton favors expansion.To date, discussions with the commissioners have resulted in the possibility of adding the mayor of Oak Harbor, an elected Whidbey General Hospital District Commissioner and the commanding officer of the air station’s naval hospital, in an advisory capacity.“I think what we get is just a better perspective from more points of view,” Shelton added. “These people add a point of view from their constituencies.”Though the numbers or nominations for the board are still undecided, Island County Health Department Director, Tim McDonald said the fact that the discussions are being held is a good sign.“I think the discussion on expanding the Board of Health is a healthy discussion and I look forward to their (Board’s) decision,” McDonald said. “An expanded Board of Health is worth their consideration because to me, it represents more community involvement in very critical public health issues.”Nothing definite has been decided yet, said Dr. Roger Case, public health officer for the Island County Health Department.“There’s been a lot of comment going on as far as work sessions, but there will have to be two public hearings first, before they pass an ordinance to expand the board,” Case said. “People have been saying that if we do it, it will be effective Jan.1. We can only await the commissioners’ decision on this at this point.”Shelton, however, said he thinks plans for expanding the Board of Health are further along.“I think it’s beyond discussion, and based on what I believe is the opinion of the Board of Health, we’ll go through the public meetings and it will become reality by the first of the year.””