Will San Juan Basin Public Health Cease to Exist?

6/21/2022

The San Juan Basin Public Health District may become another casualty of the COVID pandemic. Whether that happens remains to be seen. This story is sponsored by Happy Pappy's Pizza and Wings and Pop's Truck and RV Center

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The local health district that serves Archuleta and La Plata counties may become another casualty of the pandemic after withering intense criticism and scrutiny over its efforts to control the spread of the COVID virus. You're watching the local news network brought to you by Happy Pappy's Pizza-N-Wings and Pop's Truck and RV Center. I'm Hannah Robertson. Citing long-standing differences in the way that Archuleta and La Plata counties view the regulatory role of public health. The San Juan Basin Public Health Board of Directors last spring, recommended that the two counties dissolve the district, and each form their own health agencies. But La Plata County officials say they have at least three months of research to conduct before it acts on the recommendations. And in Archuleta County, commissioners there haven't indicated which direction they may take. In a report to both counties, the district health board said that lack of support for its directions and programs, and public scrutiny of its functions have demoralized staff, and undermined public confidence in the health agency. And unless the two counties undertake efforts to repair relationships, and protect the safety of staff and board members at all times, the counties should vote to dissolve the district.

One of the conflicts that has come up is just this feeling of health is so personal. The pandemic really underscored that. It underscored not only philosophical differences in our country, but philosophical differences between counties. I certainly wouldn't say we would have that with any other surrounding counties, but in all honesty and transparency, that is one of the reasons that has led to this place that we're at.

The committee eventually found that Archuleta County received $6 in services for every dollar it invested in the district. The committee recommended that the commissioners conduct more research. Under state law, counties are required to provide public health services like restaurant inspections, sewer system inspections, wall water tests, as well as individual health services like immunizations. A county can choose to provide those services on its own, or if it has a population of a hundred thousand residents or fewer, it can form a health district with an adjoining county to reduce administrative costs. Under state law, one county can dissolve the district, but it would take both counties to keep the district intact. If Archuleta County had decided to withdraw from the health district, La Plata County would have to provide those services on its own. So, it announced last spring that it would also explore forming its own health agency. That uncertainty in both counties prompted the health board to recommend dissolution. In the meantime, La Plata County manager, Chuck Stevens, said the county is actively conducting due diligence research to determine just what it would take to form its own health agency, while maintaining the services that San Juan Basin Public Health now provides.

How do you, at the same time, on parallel time tracks dissolve an agency, stand up a new health agency, and at the same time, ensure that we continue to provide the same public health services, the same professional level of service that San Juan Basin public health has been providing for so many years.

Steven said he expected the due diligence process to take about three months. And while the future of the health district remains in limbo, Porter Norton said the public's health remains paramount.

People have come to rely on public health for going to a restaurant and making sure it's safe. When they build something, putting in the proper type of onsite wastewater treatment program, getting a vaccine, helping with so many things that actually, until I was on the board, I had no idea the breadth and depth of what public health is. And so, our main guiding star in this is to ensure that citizens have good public health. And that is important for the public to know.

To follow developments, visit the La Plata County's website at co.laplata.co.us. Thanks for watching this edition of the local news network. I'm Hannah Robertson.

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