Merger of health services departments needed

Members of the Marietta Board of Health need to warm up to the idea of merging some, if not all, services with the county health department at some point in the future.

This week county health officials received the cold shoulder when they approached the city board about ways the two boards could work together.

We think the chilly reception was short sighted.

Dick Wittberg, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department is a Washington County resident and recently began serving the Washington County Health Department on an interim basis. He attended a city health department meeting after state health officials suggested the city and county health departments look for ways to share or combine services in an effort to save money. It recently came to light the county health department has been operating in the red for a few years.

Wittberg approached the city at the urging of state officials but even so, the sharing of city and county resources just makes sense. Why wouldn’t a city department look for ways to offer more services to more people at less cost? The goal is to help the most people and offer more services. This should not result in a turf war.

The state suggested the City of Belpre also look to combine services and Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz says city officials there are open to discussions. He said he plans to invite Wittberg to the next Belpre Board of Health meeting slated for next month.

At least Belpre is willing to listen and discuss possibilities. Marietta health board members practically slammed the door in Wittberg’s face.

One city health commissioner said the idea of merging or sharing resources has been brought up over the past 20 years but to no avail. Well, it appears the time is now.

There are currently three health boards offering duplicate services in the county – all three offer immunizations, inspect restaurants and investigate nuisance complaints. All three employ health workers and sanitation officers. The Marietta health department and county health department also issue sewage and water permits and handle birth and death records. In addition, the county department enforces the state’s ban on smoking indoors and operated the Southeastern Ohio Dental Clinic. The smoking ban and dental clinic are two huge health initiatives that positively impact all residents of the county, including many living within Marietta city limits.

We think Wittberg has the right idea to begin by sharing some services and then long term, look at the possibility of merging. And Wittberg has experience dealing with one health department overseeing several communities. The Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department provides services to Parkersburg and nine West Virginia counties.

This is something state officials have said our local departments in Washington County should consider and we think it at least deserves an honest look by all three local health departments, Marietta included.