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Ironton City Council votes to merge health departments

Director says changes could take place within two months

In a move that many expected, the Ironton City Council voted on Thursday night to merge the Ironton Health Department with the Lawrence County Health Department into a single health district.

Ironton Mayor Katrina Keith made the same recommendation in February. The state said in 2012 that all health departments to be accredited under a set of mandated standards and also suggested combining county and city health departments into one health district.

Keith had expressed doubts in February that the Ironton Health Department could meet the accreditation requirements by the June 30 deadline.

The council, which under state law has to make the decision on that type of merger, had previously considered resolution 18-08, which authorized the mayor to go ahead with the merger but tabled the resolution.

Laura Brown, the director of the Ironton Health Department, had been coming to council meetings to give updates about their progress towards accreditation.

On Thursday night, after an hour-long executive session with the Ironton Board of Health, resolution 18-08 was untabled and the council voted to have the mayor begin talks with county officials about merging.

Vice Mayor Rich Blankenship said the council had felt they owed it to the Ironton Health Department to try and get the accreditation. But they had recently received letters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Department of Health.

“They state that the City of Ironton Health Department food service license had been revoked,” he said, adding that he had talked to people at the two state agencies and he was assured that the city health department would not get the accreditation they were seeking. “We as a city council do not have a choice. I’m not willing to spend taxpayer money to fight this when we have two major state agencies stating ‘You’re done.’”

He did add that he was impressed by that the health department had worked very hard towards getting the accreditation.

“I am not putting blame on any one person,” Blankenship said. “I’m just thinking we have to do what is best for the city of Ironton and move on.”

The vote was unanimous to vote for the merger. It marked the end of the Ironton City Health Department, which has been in existence since 1876.

“It’s been a long tradition and I hate to see it go,” Brown said.

She said she was not surprised by the resolution being passed since it had been talked about for a while.

“I was hoping we could keep the health department, but I understand the city’s financial situation of that,” Brown said, adding that the Ironton Health Department would help out the Lawrence County Health Department in any way they could during the transition and there were no hard feelings.

Brown said she expects that the merger could be completed within the next two months.

She said the Ironton Health Department would continue its services until the merger is completed.

“I would like to see the citizens put their weight behind this new health department to make them stronger,” Brown said. “Hopefully, we can have a bigger health department offering better services to everyone in the city and the county.”

Brown, who has been with the Ironton Health Department for eight years, said it has been wonderful.

“I hate to leave, it’s been like a family to me,” she said. “I love this city and I love this county too. We all just have to get along.”