Kellie Hotter and Robert Moomaw, chairwoman and chairman, respectively, of the La Plata and Archuleta county boards of commissioners, will choose the members of a new board of the San Juan Basin Health Department if the district is restructured.
The assignments were announced Monday during a meeting of current health district board members and county commissioners with employees of the San Juan Basin Health Department.
The aim of the meeting in part was to squelch rumors that came after a La Plata County staff recommendation two weeks ago that commissioners from the two counties - and one at-large member - be seated as the health board for an interim period.
Under Senate Bill 194, counties statewide are scrambling to re-evaluate by July 1 their public-health agencies to determine if restructuring would be beneficial.
Among the rumors: layoffs, reduction in funding, elimination of programs, hiring of high-priced consultants.
The rumors aren't "remotely accurate," La Plata County Manager Shawn Nau said.
The health department has a budget of about $6 million and operates about 70 programs.
Two hours of back-and-forth discussion Monday boiled down to the same points of view expressed April 8 before La Plata County commissioners - expediency versus experience.
Nau, who facilitated the meeting Monday, said timing is an issue. An interim board of directors could move quicker on policy and funding issues than the seven-member community-based panel. A board of elected officials also would raise the visibility of public health and emphasize its importance, Nau said.
Nau and county commissioners assured the gathering that employees aren't being shunted, no ultimate decision has been made and their contributions would be sought in making a needs assessment. Nau pointed out that La Plata and Archuleta counties have approved resolutions to maintain the district as the local public-health agency.
"Nothing is predetermined," Hotter said.
Moomaw said commissioners still are waiting for a legal ruling from the state about whether commissioners can sit as a health-district board.
Nau said "everyone's opinion matters" and "we're here as a team."
Said La Plata County Commissioner Joelle Riddle: "Our goal is to create more credibility."
Health department employees weren't impressed.
They said they feel as if they're receiving the back of the hand from public officials. They touted the expertise and decades of experience they have to make changes if necessary and said shenanigans in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street make them leery of government involvement.
Epidemiologist Joe Fowler, a 15-year employee, said the impression among staff members is that they are seen as an impediment.
"Let us lead the transition," Fowler said. "We know public health better than you."
Malinda Malone, an immunization nurse, likened the pledge to involve health department employees in decision making to a couple visiting a marriage counselor when one partner already has decided to terminate the union.
"It sounds like a done deal to us," Malone said.
Dale Greenwood, the health department's financial director, said she has concluded from visiting 15 county health departments around the state that health agencies operated by an independent board function better than those under a government-run agency.
Health department Director Lynn Westberg said later that SB194 goes far beyond its original intent, which she said was to bring standardized nursing and environmental health services to all counties. La Plata and Archu-leta counties already receive the basic set of services through her agency, Westberg said.