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Dept of Health creation is eyed

After spending months in a pandemic, relying on the Pennsylvania Department of Health for health-related decisions and information, the Warren County Commissioners are looking for options.

On Monday, the commissioners discussed establishing a county department of health or a regional department of health.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin introduced the idea. He said creating and funding a county department of health would cost the county about $80,000 annually.

For a regional department, the cost would be somewhat higher, but there would be other counties sharing the costs.

Kafferlin said the regional office would cost about $100,00 a year.

The office would have to have “one full-time person with a masters degree in public health,” Kafferlin said.

“Venango, Crawford, and Forest (counties) have expressed significant interest,” he said.

Other counties could be part of an agreement, but “I would want to partner with counties that are most like us,” Commissioner Tricia Durbin said.

The commissioners generally expressed a desire to avoid a local department handling food service inspections.

“Is it all or nothing?” Durbin asked. “What new costs are we going to have at the county level?”

“We could set the parameters,” Eggleston said.

Durbin also asked how much value the county would get in years when there is not a pandemic.

Kafferlin said the department would be a resource in other public health situations — an opioid epidemic, for instance.

Eggleston said the department could help “coordinate a regional telemedicine effort.”

Generally, the department would help eliminate competing and duplicated efforts and lead to more cooperation, Kafferlin said.

He suggested that the commissioners “get a menu of what they could do” then consult with the other interested counties about what services they would be interested in before making any decisions.

“I’m interested in exploring it,” Kafferlin said.

“I’d rather have us be making the calls than the state,” Commissioner Jeff Eggleston said.

According to the Department of Health’s press office, “there are six county health departments and four local health departments. These local and county health departments are primarily responsible for the health and well-being within their jurisdiction. The Department of Health can certainly provide assistance as necessary.”

The department has a state health center on Pennsylvania Avenue East in Warren.

“The state health centers are the state-funded healthcare offices where people with low income or people without insurance can be seen and treated,” according to the press office. “The state health centers provide health exams, immunizations, and health education.”

“These centers also provides referral and resources for information on other health-related issues like mental health, substance abuse, pregnancy and HIV resources,” the press office said. “Individuals who need services from their local state health center should call 1-877-PA-HEALTH. Our nurses that work out of state health centers conduct disease investigations, participate in community events to share health information, and work to help ensure that Pennsylvanians are healthy.”

Veterans affairs

New Veterans Affairs Director Delores Stec addressed the commissioners, saying she is having to schedule appointments a little over two weeks out.

When former Director Ed Burris retired, Stec, who had been the assistant director moved up. The assistant director position has not been filled.

Commissioner Tricia Durbin asked Stec to keep the commissioners appraised if the scheduling delay becomes longer.

Stec also said she is unavailable for appointments on Tuesday afternoons. Annual accreditation is typically done in a one-week course. Due to COVID-19, the course is being delivered virtually. Stec will renew her accreditation a couple hours a week through Oct. 26.

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