The Adams County commissioners will vote to begin the process to end the county's relationship with the Tri-County Health Department, according to a statement released Oct. 19.
According to the statement, commissioners intend to bring forward a resolution at their Oct. 26 public hearing to provide notice of Adams County’s decision to leave Tri-County Health Department.
Per its legal obligation, Adams County will remain a part of TCHD through December 2022. Starting January 2023, Adams County will have its own health department structure in place. There will be no disruption of services to Adams County residents during this transition, according to the statement.
“During this transition, the focus will always remain the health and well-being of our residents,” said Eva J. Henry, Adams County Commissioner and board chairperson. “This new structure gives us an opportunity to focus on the specific needs of our residents and invest dollars in the areas that need it most.”
Over the next year, Adams County will work closely with partners who rely on health department services to establish needs and best practices for partnerships going forward, while focusing on positive outcomes for Adams County residents.
“Douglas County’s decisions left us no choice but to re-evaluate the future of public health services in Adams County,” said Henry. “As a result, Adams County must determine the best option to move ahead for a health board and services provided to residents.”
Similar to the majority of counties in Colorado, Adams County will follow the common practice of providing its own health department for its residents, according to the statement.
Arapahoe County's elected leaders released a statement in reaction to Adams County's announcement, saying: "The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners is saddened that our neighboring counties have chosen to end the productive 55-year partnership with the Tri-County Health Department."
"Arapahoe County residents will continue to receive all existing Tri-County public health services uninterrupted during the transition," the statement from commissioners said. It added: "The Board intends to do what it can to support the many dedicated employees of Tri-County Health throughout this process."
The chain of events that led to counties leaving Tri-County Health began more than a year ago.
In July 2020, Douglas County commissioners announced they would eventually leave Tri-County Health, citing a wish for more local control over public health orders. Douglas' consideration of leaving the agency came amid a rift with Tri-County Health over the agency's coronavirus pandemic policies.
But last November, the commissioners walked the decision back and agreed to stay with the health department until at least 2023. As part of that agreement, however, the commissioners were assured they would be able to opt out of any public health order. The Tri-County health board voted on Aug. 30 this year to no longer allow opt-outs.
Douglas commissioners formalized the decision to leave Tri-County in a meeting Sept. 7, opting to form its own health department.
In early September, Arapahoe County confirmed that Arapahoe and Adams counties had also been contemplating splitting away from Tri-County Health, among other options, driven by Douglas County's intention to leave. An Arapahoe County spokesperson at the time said a separation by Arapahoe wouldn't be driven by any policy disagreement with the agency.
Douglas exiting the health agency would potentially create financial or budgetary problems for the other two counties, the spokesperson added.
Later, Douglas County reached an agreement to continue to receive all services from Tri-County Health Department until at least the end of 2022 after the two entities came to an agreement that was approved by the county commissioners during a Sept. 28 work session. Douglas will still have its own board of health in charge of things like county-wide public health orders.
The county will continue to pay its proportional share of the cost of Tri-County services, according to the agreement. In light of that agreement, it was less clear how Douglas' exit would financially affect Arapahoe and Adams.
Some local leaders in Arapahoe County had worried that a decision of whether to break away from Tri-County Health Department would be influenced by the “politicization of public health.”
“There was this question about what is the message to our residents about the politicization of public health and the trust and responsibility in government if there's a perception that this decision is being made because of politics around COVID? What are we saying to our residents?” said Lisa VanRaemdonck, a consultant who was gathering opinions to guide Arapahoe County's decision of whether to form its own health department after Douglas County's impending exit of Tri-County Health. VanRaemdonck spoke to Arapahoe's commissioners during a Sept. 14 meeting.
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