Health Authority operational

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

WINTON – A new county agency was born on July 1, 2004 as public health services in Hertford County were re-organized into the newly established Hertford County Public Health Authority.

The new agency was the result of the dissolution of the 65 year partnership of Hertford and Gates counties in the Hertford-Gates District Health Department when Gates County chose to withdraw from the district health department to join the now seven-county Albemarle Regional Health Services (district health department) headquartered in Elizabeth City.

Hertford County chose to establish a single county public health authority, which allows the public health agency the same ability as a multi-county health district to manage its own finances and administration and to develop public health programs and services apart from the county administration.

&uot;This flexibility is critically important for a public health agency to be able to respond in a timely manner to the many public health issues and needs of our community, as well as the ability to leverage finances to get the most bang for our bucks,&uot; said Curtis Dickson, Health Director.

Citizens should see little change in the operations of the public health agency.

The same services that were available under the old Hertford-Gates Health Agency will still be available under the Hertford County Public Health Authority.

The only change is that Gates County will no longer be part of the equation.

Several seasoned and experienced public health board members were appointed to the new Public Health Authority governing board, which will be composed of nine individuals serving staggered terms with most of the positions reflecting professional discipline positions required by state law.

Dr. Claudia Richardson serves as the required physician on the board, along with Dr. Terry Hall as the required dentist.

Sharon Jehle, vice president for patient services at Roanoke Chowan Hospital, serves as the required senior hospital administrator.

Brenda Greene serves as the required County Commissioner representative (replacing Vernice Howard who served on the old District Board of Health).

State law requires at least one representative from the general public, and two such members were appointed to this governing board.

They include Charles Reynolds of Reynolds Funeral Home and William Stephens, retired entrepreneur and current Murfreesboro Town Council member.

In addition, state law also provides that additional board members must be appointed from certain professional disciplines.

Westelle Howington represents the nursing profession.

Dr. Pat Proctor represents veterinary science.

Dr. Scott Edwards represents the field of optometry.

Pharmacy, engineering and accounting were the other eligible professional disciplines.

At its organizational meeting on July 1, the new Public Health Authority board, after being duly sworn in, elected Dr. Terry Hall as its chair and Dr. Claudia Richardson as its vice chair.

The board decided to hold monthly meetings on the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Agency’s chronic disease and diabetes center building in Ahoskie.

Curtis Dickson was chosen to serve as the new Agency’s Health Director.

The board established working committees, approved the Agency’s operating budget for the current fiscal year, employed Mitchell McLean as the board’s attorney, elected to continue participation in the Social Security system and the Local Government Retirement System, authorized the establishment of a personnel system, elected to continue delegation of authority to the Health Director established under the old health district, continued all prior public health agency fees and policies and contracts, and adopted a salary schedule for all employed staff.

On the dissolution of the old Hertford-Gates District Health Department, the former Agency’s fund balance was split between the two counties, with Hertford County receiving roughly two-thirds of the available funds and Gates County receiving one-third of the funds.

This division was based by law on the percentage of annual county appropriations to the former agency’s budget.

Some 75 percent of the available fund balance was split on June 30, with the remaining 25 percent to be split after the final Agency audit is completed by October 31 and all residual revenues and expenses are accounted for.

Hertford County received $1,040,579.38 in the 75 percent split and Gates County received $535,136.77.

Additional revenues are expected in October with the remaining 25 percent split.

State and federal law requires that nearly all of those funds be returned to the succeeding public health agencies, to be spent on the particular public health services where the funds were earned.

Hertford County has forwarded its full amount to the Hertford County Public Health Authority.

Gates County will be required to forward most of its share to Albemarle Regional Health Services.

Dickson said that Hertford County was able to establish the new Public Health Authority and manage to retain all but one half-time position.

&uot;It was very important that we re-organize in such a manner that individuals did not lose their jobs, and we worked very hard to ensure that that happen,&uot; he said.

&uot;It was also important that we maintain the same level of service delivery, and we have also ensured that same level of service delivery with this year’s budget, even though Hertford County has chosen not to provide any county appropriations to the new agency so far this year.&uot;

The Agency’s operating budget is $4.8 million dollars, with about 65 percent of that amount coming from fees for service and 35 percent from various grants, with no county funding support.

The Agency has had to budget a little over $300,000 from its fund balance to make up for the lack of the usual $300,000 in county funding support.

&uot;Hertford County had one of the most proactive and effective local health departments in the state last year in the old district health department,&uot; said Dickson.

&uot;We have retained all our current employees and all our current services in this transition to a Public Health Authority, and the public will see the same high level of services and dedication from our caring staff that we have always had.&uot;