Douglas County commissioners Tuesday formally appointed five board members for their newly-formed health department, a key step in the county's move away from the Tri-County Health Department.
The board includes two of the three county commissioners, Lora Thomas and George Teal.
Decisions about public health in the county will now be made by the board, which also includes Dr. Linda Fielding, Kim Muramoto and Doug Benevento.
The unanimous vote at Tuesday's meeting finalizes a Sept. 7 preliminary decision by commissioners to appoint these members.
Douglas County leaders have been unhappy with Tri-County Health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic over its COVID-safety policies, including mask-wearing rules. Tri-County oversees public health in Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties.
“We do have two elected officials (on the Douglas County board) -- my colleagues here that would be appointed,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said at Tuesday's meeting. “We’ve certainly heard from many of our citizens how important it is to have that accountability and oversight from those that represent them in an elected capacity.”
Fielding and Muramoto both currently represent Douglas County on the Tri-County Health board. Benevento is a member of the county’s Public Health Advisory Committee, which was formed in August to provide input to the commissioners on the future of public health.
By state statute, the board of health is charged with selecting an executive director of the health department, presenting a department budget and deciding on public health orders, among other duties.
Once this board is seated and has its first meeting, the health department jurisdiction will officially change from Tri-County Health to the Douglas County Health Department.
The county plans to set a meeting of the board before the end of the month, said a county spokesperson.
The commissioners said during their work session that they may expand this board of health or reconsider its structure in the future but they wanted to move forward with immediately establishing it.
Teal expressed an interest in eventually changing the board to include elected public health representatives.
The new board of health may also have alternates who can step in for the members when needed, according to the motion approved. Those alternatives have not yet been decided.
The terms of the new board members were determined based on seniority, with Fielding’s term expiring in 2023, Muramoto’s in 2024 and Benevento’s in 2025. The commissioners' terms will be set by their terms in office.
The county has already paid for services from Tri-County through the end of the year and plans on continuing those at least until then. The commissioners and Tri-County are also discussing continuing those services beyond the end of the year.
Douglas County commissioners voted to leave the health department just days after Tri-County’s Board of Health voted to no longer allow counties to opt out of public health orders and to impose an order requiring the indoor wearing of masks as a COVID-safety measure for all students and staff at schools within its three-county jurisdiction. It's a policy that the Douglas County School District had adopted despite the opposition of county leaders.
Douglas County commissioners signaled in July 2020 that they planned to exit Tri-County, then put that plan on hold when the agency agreed to let the county opt out of its COVID orders.
Tri-County is now in discussions with all three counties it represents to determine the future of public health for these areas.
During the meeting, commissioners spoke in support of their decision to form their own health department.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity to create a department shaped for us, defined by law and that will be a proper solution for public health in Douglas County Colorado,” Teal said.
Deputy County Manager Barbara Drake said that "it's not that uncommon to have elected officials serving as members of boards of health in the state.”
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