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Rumors of county health, CHD services merger raised

GOLD BEACH – Questions about a rumored merger between Curry County Health and Human Services (CCHHS) and Curry Health District were raised at a recent Curry County Board of Commissioners work session.

Commissioner Georgia Nowlin challenged CCHHS Director Jan Kaplan to explain why the commissioners hadn’t been consulted.

Kaplan said he’d held informal discussions with the Curry Health District for the district to take over his department as early as next July.

Nowlin said, “A couple of years ago, the public health administrator had talked about public health being taken over by the health district.

“Bill McMillan (health district CEO) said two years ago the district board had looked at it and they were not interested,” she said.

Nowlin said she’d heard about discussions concerning such a move, but it had never been brought before the commissioners.

She said she heard that at a recent local staff training session the question of transfers came up.

“One of the questions asked by employees (of CCHHS) is how they will be retained when it’s combined with the Curry Health Network (Curry Health District),” Nowlin said.

“I understand at the next meeting this question also came up, and a date was given – July 1. What’s going on? And why, as a board member, don’t I know anything about it?” Nowlin said.

Commissioner George Rhodes said that in April 2009, the commissioners had two work sessions with McMillan to discuss the possibility.

“At one of those two workshops, we were told they weren’t interested,” Nowlin said.

Rhodes said, “When Jan came on, I did ask him to continue to look at it. I also asked children’s services to do the same thing. We ought to have some plan to combine to have services, if we don’t have funding.”

Nowlin said if the county drops public health, there are only two ways to go.

“My understanding is, if we decide to give it up and let someone else take over, they’d take not only the programs that make money but also the programs that don’t,” she said.

“Or, we as a county could retain local health authority and contract out the services. We’d get rid of the programs that make money and keep the ones that don’t.”

Kaplan told Nowlin that he’d had informal discussions with the health district.

“We have looked at how the structure would work,” he said. “Nothing has been done. One of the things would be coming to the board. What I think we should be doing is to study the feasibility, look at the options. It would require looking at all the details.”

Nowlin said her question goes back to the only two ways the county can give up public health – “turn over the whole ball of wax, or contract out services.”

Kaplan said, “There are several (counties) that have gone the health district route. It can be done.”

He said the question of whether Curry County should go that route requires study.

“What we should be looking at is local control under local elected officials, where the county is going, where health care is going, and where the state is going,” Kaplan said.

“That doesn’t answer what we’re doing in Curry County now, or tomorrow,” Nowlin said.

“If we give it up, they have to take it all,” she said.

“If we are going to contract out services, the question is, when we are doing that, we would be giving up services that make money and keep services that don’t. Or are we going to turn it over to another entity?” Nowlin said.

“My quarrel on this is it has never come before the board of commissioners. This whole idea of taking Health and Human Services is something never talked about,” Nowlin said.

Kaplan said, “When you commissioners interviewed me, we had questions leading to discussions with the health district. I report to a board, not to Georgia Nowlin, Bill Waddle and George Rhodes.”

Nowlin said, “I don’t understand why you would take a job interview that would allow you to go forward, without letting the board know of your interest in negotiating with the Curry Health District. I talked to employees. They’re upset. And you gave a date,” she said.

Kaplan said, “If we decided to move forward, the ideal date would be July 1. Whether this is something that would happen – it’s not up to me. We haven’t made a decision.

“The board would make that decision. All that has been done is to begin discussions. We’ve got to look at possibilities. How would that affect employees? What would the relationship be between the county and health district? One thing I asked of employees is to think about the future.”

Kaplan said one of the questions he’d asked is, “If we were to change our structure and be a part of the health district, or become a nonprofit, how would we retain the identity of Public Health?”

Kaplan said he didn’t have the answers.

“If I did, I would be saying ‘this is what we should do,’ ” he said.

Nowlin said, “I don’t look at what you’re looking at when the hospital board doesn’t want to take on anything that costs money.”

Kaplan said, “This isn’t a question of money, just a discussion of services. We have to operate on what we earn,” he said.

Kaplan said he’d like the board to give him some direction the next time it meets.

“Do you want me to proceed, or do you not want me to proceed?” he said. “I don’t want to waste my time if you don’t.”

The work session was the last to be held this year by the commissioners. Nowlin, who did not seek re-election, leaves the board at the end of the month, to be replaced by David Itzen of Brookings.

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