County officials concerned about regional health plan
January 7, 2021
Wahkiakum county officials said Tuesday they would lobby against a proposal to replace county health districts with region-wide districts.
Officials fear they will lose local control over public health issues if decisions are made at a regional level.
The proposal comes from Governor Jay Inslee. It arose in response to some political conflicts involving county health districts around the state, said Chris Bischoff, director of Wahkiakum County Health and Human Services.
County commissioners from around the state have discussed the proposal in group meetings, and most oppose it, said Commissioner Gene Strong.
"The most vocal are the rural ones," Strong said. They're afraid there will be longer waits for service and they'll have less say in operations. There are lots of things we'll lose our voice in."
Bischoff agreed with Strong's comments and said local districts have flexibility to act efficiently.
"This pandemic has shown it," he said, pointing to the close collaboration of staff from the county health department and the Wahkiakum School District that has enabled the district to have stable classes so far this school year.
"It's small counties which will take the short end of the stick," Bischoff said.
Strong commented that he has heard positive comments from the public about the collaboration and benefit to the school district, its students, and the county overall.
"That's the thing," he said. "We worked together and we worked well."
"We've been down this road before," said Commissioner Dan Cothren, referring to a time with the health department was combined with Cowlitz County's. "Rural counties will lose."
The officials said they would lobby against the proposal.
"Something of this scale generally doesn't get passed in one legislative session," Bischoff said.