County government hears first reading of ordinance to retain public health authority

March 16, 2019

The Douglas County government will likely continue to maintain authority over public health services in Douglas County.

In November, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners had approved an ordinance that would have transferred the public health authority to the Oregon Health Authority. The commissioners Wednesday held the first reading of an ordinance that would rescind that order. A second reading of the ordinance will be held March 27, at which time the commissioners are expected to vote on it.

If the ordinance is approved, the end result would be that the county would continue to provide public health services using the same unique model it has been using in recent years, in which the services have been privatized and the county contracts with the nonprofit Douglas Public Health Network to oversee them. The nonprofit subcontracts with organizations like the Umpqua Community Health Center to provide services like immunizations and reproductive health.

Commissioner Tim Freeman praised the Douglas Public Health Network’s work Wednesday.

“They’ve been doing a fantastic job. The Oregon Health Authority recently did a triennial review of all their programs and it came back fantastic,” Freeman said.

The county first began its move toward privatizing health services in 2014, when it dropped its mental health department and transferred its mental health authority over to the state. The nonprofit Community Health Alliance was quickly formed to provide mental health services. Today, those services are provided by Adapt. The county planned to offload its public health authority to the state later in 2014, but backed off following strong public opposition and a negative reaction from the state.

In 2015, after Freeman took office and a report was completed by former Community Cancer Director Mel Cheney, the county moved instead to retain the public health authority and privatize public health services. Roseburg pediatrician Bob Dannenhoffer, who has a long history of promoting health care reform, was brought in as the public health administrator, becoming the county’s sole public health employee. He remains in that post and also heads the Douglas Public Health Network.