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No health department merger

City council tables motion, as long as there is progress

The Ironton Health Department will not merge with the Lawrence County Health Department at this time.

The matter was on the agenda of the Ironton City Council on Thursday night, but the council voted to table the resolution after making it clear they expected the city health department to get the state required accreditation.

The council went into a short executive session before taking a vote on the matter.

When they came out of the session and before voting, Vice Mayor Rich Blankenship said that they have dealt with the issue of a merger for quite some time.

“But we are down to a point where we have to make a decision on how the city moves forward from here,” he said.

All city and county health departments have to apply for accreditation from the Ohio Department of Health.

If the two health departments were to be merged, it would have to happen now since the paperwork has to be in by June 30.

“It is my personal opinion that we would owe it to Ironton City Health Department to try to achieve the accreditation and the application process,” he said. “If they cannot, then it falls where it falls. And there is no holding back from my end, I will vote to merge.”

Since the merger resolution was tabled, the city council can revisit at any meeting.

“It is in the hands of the Ironton City Health Board’s hands now,” he said, adding that he wanted updates at the twice-monthly council meetings. “I think it is worth giving them an opportunity.”

Earlier in the meeting, council members got charts and other information from the Ironton City Health Department about their services and where they were in accreditation process. Laura Brown, the director of the Ironton Health Department, assured the council they could make the deadline.

Council member Bob Cleary said that he wished they had the information earlier.

“Maybe if we had gotten these back in October or November, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion,” he said. “I have faith in the new board, enough faith to give them a shot at getting this done. I will be supporting keeping it.”

Councilman Jim Tordiff asked Mayor Katrina Keith that, although she spearheaded the merger with her recommendation, that if she was in agreement with going the health department going forward as long as the new board cooperates with accountability in the department.

Keith said she did, adding that she too wished she had gotten the information sooner.

“I am still concerned with the leadership,” she said. “I would hope that we can having a working relationship.”

Councilman Chuck O’Leary said he had been leaning towards merger until he got assurances from the city health board.

“We are putting our trust and confidence in you,” he told Brown. “I don’t want egg on my face. It is going to be tough, but we want to keep control of the health department in the city. We never wanted to give that up, but it is going to be a tough job.”

Councilman Nate Kline was the one he sponsored the resolution. He said he was encouraged by the assurance’s of the health board but he did like the cost efficiency of the merger and that there would be more concentration on environmental issues like people dumping couches and other debris on the city streets and lots.

“I am encouraged by what I’ve seen,” he said.

Councilman Craig Harvey said the health department is no different than any other city department in that it  has to be responsive to the needs of the cityand its citizens.

“My focus is to give our city what it needs,” he said. “That being said, accreditation will make or break financial status of the city health department.”

If it doesn’t attain accreditation, the health department could lose funding sources from the state and the ability to bill patients and not be able to stay open.

In the end, all six members present voted to table the resolution.