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Talk of merger continues

County health department says no loss of services

The Lawrence County Health Department wants to assure the community that if there is a merger between it and the Ironton City Health Department, that there will be no loss of services.

The issue of a possible merger is being debated by the Ironton City Council and the concept of county and city health departments being combined into a single health district is being pushed by the State of Ohio.

Georgia Dillon, a nurse practitioner and the administrator of the Lawrence County Health Department, said the purpose of the merger is for the city to gain services, not lose services.

The goal is to not only save money, but cut down on services that both health departments provide like immunizations, TB tests, pregnancy tests, nuisance complaints, infectious disease surveillance and environmental health services.

One issue is the cost of accreditation. The state wants all health departments to be accredited under a set of mandated standards. The accreditation fee is $14,000, which can be paid over two years, and there is an annual fee of $5,600.

At the last meeting of the Ironton City Council, Ironton Mayor Katrina Keith said if the city is unable to make an application for accreditation by June 30, “we lose our ability to provide health services.”

Dillon said the reason there had been talks with Keith about the merger is that they will be applying for accreditation by June 1.

“It is very expensive,” Dillon said. “If they would have combined with us, there would only be one cost, the cost we are incurring right now and we could have included them in our plan.”

Dillon said that the Lawrence County Health Department has already hired someone familiar with the accreditation process to work on the process.

They also have hired a registered sanitarian. The Ironton City Health Department has a person who is taking the test soon.

Dillon said she has assurances from the state that they will assist in the merger.

“They, like us, just want what is best for the community,” she said.

Debbie Fisher, the Lawrence County Health Department health educator, said that if a health department is not accredited, the organization faces losing the ability to apply for grants, lose state subsidies and the ability to bill patients.

“We’ve put our money where our mouth is to get this accreditation,” Dillon said.

Fisher said that Ohio is the first state to put accreditation into law and that it has to be done by 2020.

“The state is behind this, it will reduce costs,” she said. “We will still provide all services, the community won’t lose services. “

“We will have to go ahead and proceed on accreditation,” Dillon said. “We don’t have a choice.”

She said that it is an opportune time for the merger.

“They don’t have any environmental services at this time, their board members were just elected,” she said. “I think the mayor is interested in doing this because it is going to save some costs, which are very high.”

Another issue that was brought up at council was childhood vaccinations. Dillon said that every health facility in the county gets the childhood vaccines and that they do not turn away people if they cannot pay and don’t have insurance.

“The city is not going to lose that service,” she said. “It is specifically for poor people who do not have insurance.”

Fisher said that if a mother brings in her kids to be immunized for school and says she cannot pay, the kids will get the shots and the fees are waived.

Under Ohio law, any decision about merging the two health departments would have to be voted by the city council and the county’s advisory council.