Adams County has appointed a former Tri-County County Health Department official to serve as director of the Adams County Health Department, an entity that will oversee county public health once Tri-County County County will vanish in early 2023.
One of the new department’s top priorities is “achieving health equity,” Dr Kelly Weidenbach, the nominated director, said in a press release.
“We often talk about raising the voice of communities and populations that may have historically been underestimated, underrepresented and have had negative or disproportionate outcomes,” Weidenbach said in the statement.
The Tri-County Health partnership, which has been providing health services to Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties for more than 50 years, will soon fade, fractured in large part by Douglas County disagreements over COVID-19 policies.
The process of withdrawing the three counties from Tri-County began with Douglas County commissioners who decided to leave the health agency immediately in September 2021 after months of disagreements over COVID-19 protection measures.
Tri-County became a magnet for attention during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic as it issued mask warrants to schools and the general public. But local public health agencies also perform other functions, mostly out of the public eye.
For example, the Adams County Health Department will provide a range of discounted or free clinical services to residents, including vaccinations, chronic disease prevention, membership providing free food to women and their children who may not being able to afford the expense, according to the press release, increased availability of tests for monkeypox in the coming months and sexual health, family planning and treatment and testing of STIs.
County agencies take different forms
The composition of an Adams and Arapahoe County health departments looks set to include more former Tri-County leaders than the Douglas Health Department.
Tri-County lists 10 staff members as its “executive team,” a collection of leaders who oversee priorities such as emergency preparedness, disease surveillance, and environmental health. Arapahoe County had gathered six of those leaders – plus the former Tri-County Director of Nursing – to work for its next single-county health department starting in July.
Adams County was supposed to absorb one of those 10 leaders, as well as the former Tri-County policy expert, as well as Weidenbach. Douglas County hadn’t hired any of those key Tri-County staff members as of July.
Although the Douglas County Health Department had not announced high-profile hires of former Tri-County staff, the new department will absorb a small number of employees from the outgoing agency.
“We have hired two people from Tri-County so far. Expect probably about 10 more, ”a Douglas County statement said in late July.
The Douglas County Health Department unveiled a possible staffing chart of approximately 35 full-time employees and two contractors, according to an April 19 working session with county commissioners, the county’s elected leaders.
The Adams County Health Department, meanwhile, plans to hire a total of about 170 employees, though that number could change, according to Lynn Baca, an Adams County commissioner.
“We have at least 60 staff members from Tri-County Health in various locations,” Baca told Colorado Community Media in July.
Arapahoe County plans to hire up to 180 people for its health department, according to Luc Hatlestad, a spokesman for the county.
Asked how many lower tier Tri-County Health employees should work for the Arapahoe County Health Department, Arapahoe County said in a July statement, “We don’t have the details yet, but as mentioned, the hiring staffing is a top priority for (Arapahoe County Health) and Tri-County employees certainly have a lot of relevant experience and expertise. “
Focus on a diverse population
While Tri-County’s breakup began with Douglas County’s exit, Adams County’s elected leaders have shown some enthusiasm in leaving, even if that’s not due to opposition to masking at the start of the pandemic.
Baca called the transition a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity and a gateway to better meet the unique needs of Adams County residents.
“I think this gives us the opportunity to look more specifically at the needs of our diverse population here in Adams,” Dr. Sheela Mahnke, chair of the Adams County Health Council, said in the press release. (The health council is the decision-making body for the health department.)
41% of people in Adams County identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 46% identify as white alone, Colorado Community Media reported in 2021. According to the Washington Post, Adams County is one of 65 counties. of the United States which have become a majority minority in the last decade. “Majority mirance” means that most of the residents are people of color.
Mental health, addiction can be priorities
Weidenbach, who will serve as executive director of the Adams County Health Department, was previously appointed director of public health transition in Adams County, a position that led the county as he worked to move to a new public health department. The county announced its new location on September 1.
“We will also address recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, looking at places where the community may have lost traction on important health issues such as mental health, substance abuse, and physical and mental well-being,” he said. Weidenbach in the press release.
“Mental and behavioral health is definitely at the heart of our Council of Commissioners. We will then look at how we promote and develop the capabilities within the new health department to address any obstacles to improving mental health in the community, ”Weidenbach said in the statement.
Tri County Department of Health,