Adams County picks former Tri-County Health official to lead new health department

Decision further solidifies imprint of Tri-County on new agency


Adams County has appointed a former Tri-County Health Department official to serve as director of the newly-formed Adams County Health Department, an entity that will oversee public health for the county once Tri-County fades away at the start of 2023.

One of the top priorities of the new department is to “achieve health equity,” Dr. Kelly Weidenbach, the appointed director, said in a news release.

“We often talk about raising the voices of communities and populations that may have been historically undervalued, underrepresented, and who experience adverse or disproportionate outcomes,” Weidenbach said in the release.

The partnership of Tri-County Health, which for more than 50 years has delivered health services to Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, will soon fade away, fractured largely by Douglas County’s disagreements over COVID-19 policies.

The process of the three counties pulling out of Tri-County began with the Douglas County commissioners deciding to immediately leave the health agency in September 2021 after months of disagreements over COVID-19 protection measures.

Tri-County became a magnet for attention during the earlier stages of the coronavirus pandemic as it issued mask mandates for schools and the general public. But local public health agencies also perform other functions, mostly out of the public eye.

For example, the Adams County Health Department will provide a range of clinical services at a discount or no cost to residents, including immunizations, chronic disease prevention, enrollment that provides free food to women and their children who may not be able to afford groceries, increased testing availability for monkeypox in the coming months, and sexual health, family planning, and STI treatment and testing, according to the news release.

Counties’ agencies take different shapes

The makeup of the Adams and Arapahoe single-county health departments appears set to feature more former leaders from Tri-County than the Douglas health department will.

Tri-County lists 10 staff members as its “executive team,” a collection of leaders that oversee priorities like emergency preparedness, disease surveillance and environmental health. Arapahoe County had scooped up six of those leaders — plus Tri-County’s former director of nursing — to work for its upcoming single-county health department as of July.

Adams County was set to absorb one of those 10 leaders, plus Tri-County’s former policy expert, in addition to Weidenbach. Douglas County had not hired any of those key Tri-County staff members as of July.

Though the Douglas County Health Department hadn’t announced high-profile hires of former Tri-County staff, the new department will absorb a small number of employees from the outgoing agency.

“To date we have hired two people from Tri-County. Expect probably about 10 more,” a statement from Douglas County said in late July. 

The Douglas County Health Department has floated a possible staff organizational chart consisting of about 35 full-time employees and two contractors, according to an April 19 work session with county commissioners, the county’s elected leaders.

The Adams County Health Department, meanwhile, plans to hire a total of about 170 employees, though that number could change, according to Lynn Baca, an Adams County commissioner.

“We have at least 60 staff members coming over from Tri-County Health in various positions,” Baca told Colorado Community Media in July.

Arapahoe County expects to hire up to 180 people for its health department, according to Luc Hatlestad, county spokesperson.

Asked how many lower-level Tri-County Health employees are expected to work for the Arapahoe County health department, Arapahoe County said in a July statement: “We don’t have specifics yet, but as mentioned, hiring staff is a top priority for (Arapahoe County health) leadership, and Tri-County employees certainly have a lot of relevant experience and expertise.”

Focus on diverse population

While Tri-County’s breakup began with Douglas County’s exit, Adams County’s elected leaders have shown some enthusiasm in leaving — though that’s not due to an opposition to masking earlier in the pandemic.

Baca has called the transition a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance and a door to better fulfilling the unique needs of Adams County residents.

“I think this gives us an opportunity to look more specifically at the needs of our diverse population here in Adams,” Dr. Sheela Mahnke, the Adams County Board of Health president, said in the news release. (The board of health is the policy-making body for the health department.)

Forty-one percent of people in Adams County identify as Hispanic or Latino and 46% identify as White alone, Colorado Community Media reported in 2021. According to the Washington Post, Adams County is one of 65 counties in the U.S. that became majority minority in the past decade. “Majority minority” means the majority of residents are people of color.

Mental health, addiction may be priorities

Weidenbach, who will serve as executive director of the Adams County Health Department, previously had been named director of public health transition in Adams County — a position that guided the county as it worked to transition to a new public health department. The county announced her new position Sept. 1.

“We will also be really looking around recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic — looking at places where the community may have lost traction on important health issues such as mental health, substance abuse, and physical and mental well-being,” Weidenbach said in the news release.

“Mental and behavioral health is certainly a focus for our Board of Commissioners. So we'll look at how we foster and build capacity within the new health department to address any barriers for improving mental health in the community,” Weidenbach said in the release.

Adams County, Tri County Health Department, public health, Colorado, COVID-19


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