During a special meeting Friday, the Curry County Board of Commissioners voted to disband Curry County Public Health, allowing the Oregon Health Authority to take over the duties in Curry County.
Commissioners voted 2-1 with Chris Paasch voting against the move.
"This is the worst decision this board will make," Paasch said.
The vote came after OHA sent a letter to the county, saying things must improve in public health or the state would move to take over.
Excerpts from the letter read, "we learned that schools and employers are responsible for doing their own contact tracing, reportable disease investigations and follow-ups are not being carried out...there are no reproductive health services available in the community, and there are no licensing inspections in restaurants or tourist accommodations being carried out, because there are no staff. The county has been provided funds to perform these functions though it has failed to submit the required fiscal reports which would allow OHA to understand how the state’s money is being spent."
Curry County has only one employee working in the public health authority, Sherrie Ward public health administrator, and the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult, if not impossible, to keep up.
OHA gave the county until Friday to provide a written explanation detailing how they intend to remedy the situation, or else OHA would take over.
During a public comment period after the vote, Sheriff John Ward—who is married to Sherrie Ward—reiterated Paasch's point.
"This letter that you guys got from the state...is basically a threat," said Ward. He went on to explain steps Curry Public Health had been taking to rebuild, such as interviewing candidates to hire, and requesting temporary support from Josephine County.
"You guys have jumped the gun on this. I don't know what your hurry was, if you don't like what is going on, let the state decide after they receive the letter today," said Ward.
The letter Ward was referring to is Curry County Public Health's rebuttal to OHA's letter, which detailed steps the county was taking to fix staffing issues and others, he said.
County Treasurer David Barnes also spoke publicly in opposition of the move.
Commissioners had another agenda item set Friday, adopting a job description for an administrative assistant in the public health. After the vote to allow OHA to take over, that item become moot and was not considered.