“Dear Archuleta County”… Letter from the Board of Health Part Two – Pagosa Daily Post News Events & Video about Pagosa Springs Colorado

Read part one

Communication difficulties have been exacerbated by social distancing, changes in the frequency of board meetings, the challenges of onboarding new board members during a public health emergency, the inability to meet in person, and the escalating divide between social and political views that has emerged over the last few years.

— from the June 7 letter from the San Juan Basin Board of Health (SJBPH).

If you would like to read the three-page letter from the SJBPH Board of Health sent to county commissioners in La Plata and Archuleta counties on June 7, you can download it here.

The main message of the Health Board can be found in this paragraph:

The Board of Health has no decision-making authority regarding the structure of the health district and it remains the responsibility of the two BOCCs to determine whether the health district should or should not remain intact. Therefore, we offer only a recommendation. The Board of Health’s recommendation is that the current county be dissolved and each county pursue its individual visions for public health services. There are long-standing differences in how these two counties view the regulatory role of public health and the services to be provided. The perceived and expressed desire for more direct management of public health services to meet the needs of each county can best be met by splitting into two districts. Separation will bring its own challenges and affect both parties. The development of public health infrastructure to provide the minimum basic public health services will take some time to develop, perhaps longer than the one-year transition period. SJBPH staff and the Board of Health are committed to assisting both counties in a smooth transition.

As mentioned in part one of this editorial series, the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners did not discuss this letter in a public meeting, nor did the BOCC share the letter with ratepayers. The letter was obtained by a private citizen group through a CORA (Colorado Open Records Act) request.

The SJBPH district was created some 70 years ago to provide certain types of services to the two neighboring counties, no doubt with the goal of avoiding duplication of services, increasing efficiency and making better use of taxpayer funding. La Plata County contributes about four times more funding than Archuleta County to SJBPH operations based on population.

For Archuleta County, the annual financial contribution is about $20 per capita. About $80 a year for any family of four. That spending provides public health services to 14,000 Archuleta County residents… at least in theory.

(This may seem like a bargain to some taxpayers, compared, for example, to the annual cost of operating the Archuleta County Jail: more than $150 per capita. More than $600 per year for each family of four. This cost provides incarceration for about 25 people, on average.)

However, for at least the past two years, the Archuleta Commissioners have publicly questioned whether Archuleta County taxpayers are getting their money’s worth out of our relationship with SJBPH.

Commissioners’ dissatisfaction with SJBPH appears to be based on several factors, including fees associated with septic system approvals, a perceived lack of communication, concerns that La Plata County is receiving more than its “fair share” of services and the composition of and limited right to voice on the health care board.

It all came to a head, so to speak, when SJBPH began enforcing mask mandates and isolation rules during the COVID pandemic, beginning in March 2020. The three Archuleta County Commissioners and SJBPH staff found themselves on the opposite side of the scale. sides of the political fence on COVID measures.

Last August, the BOCC convened a “Health District Inquiry Committee” to put some financial numbers to the question: “Should Archuleta County sever its relationship with SJBPH and create our own public health office, and what exactly might the result be?” “

The BOCC heard the commission of inquiry’s final report in March. Except the report didn’t sound like a final report. The research, as summarized by committee member Leslie Davis, included data from six different public health agencies. The report spans 148 pages, but offers one simple conclusion: more research is needed.

As the Board of Health’s June 7 letter shows, the very idea that Archuleta County is considering a divorce has caused some discomfort among three groups. SJBPH Staff. The Board of Health. And the La Plata County Commissioners.

The “From” section of the letter looks like this:

By: Karyn Daniels, Chair, San Juan Basin Public Health Council
Cher Byrd, Co-Chair, San Juan Basin Public Health Council

Ms. Daniels resigned from the Board of Health shortly after sending this letter. She was one of three health directors representing Archuleta County. (The other two are Commissioner Alvin Schaaf and Dr. John Bruce.)

One of La Plata County’s representatives who serves on the Board of Health is La Plata County Commissioner Marcia Porter-Norton, who argued her point during a Board of Health meeting last April.

“Public health care is many years old, but there comes a time when I think we need to be transparent and honest about how this marriage works. For it is a marriage made by the two boards of county commissioners. You all are doing a great job. But at the end of the day, it’s up to both county commissions to decide whether we stay in this district. It’s honestly very challenging for La Plata County right now…

“We have to ask ourselves as leaders: How long are we going to let this go on? Every marriage is imperfect, but are we going to stay married and say, “We’re going to work on this, we believe we’re in this together, and we believe in the principles of public health and the basic things that public health offers, like vaccines, like masks?” “These things drove a huge wedge in our ability to sometimes have a united front.”

The simple political fact is that during the COVID crisis, many citizens—in both counties—rejected the “essentials that public health offers” like vaccines, like masks, like imposed business lockdowns.

Commissioner Marcia Porter-Norton may believe in certain “public health principles”. Not everyone agrees with her.

Read part three, tomorrow…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson began sharing his views in the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 and I can’t seem to kick the habit. He argues that in Pagosa Springs, opinions are like pickup trucks: everyone has one.

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