County withholding quarterly health department payment
WEST BRANCH — Ogemaw County is withholding its quarterly payment of $31,750 to District Health Department No. 2 until a qualified health officer is hired to lead the department.
Commissioners voted 6-1 to withhold the payment during their Sept. 13 meeting, with Commissioner Pete Hennard dissenting.
Commissioner Bev Scott said the county usually votes ahead of time to allocate its share of quarterly funds to DHD 2, but is waiting to make its payment for October, November and December. She said the vote to withhold funding is due to the Board of Health dragging its feet in hiring a new, qualified health officer to replace Lynette Benjamin, whom the state informed the board it had to replace by Nov. 14 due to her lack of qualifications.
Board of Health members voted 5-3 during their meeting in August to pursue an associate contract with District Health Department No. 4 to fulfill health officer duties. Commissioner John West said the Board of Health already paid for advertising for the position, held interviews and started talking about wages and salary with three candidates before the board made the decision to look at sharing DHD 4’s health officer.
“Right at the end of it, now they decide they want to check with District 4 to see if we can get their health officer to work part time two days a week,” he said.
West added the way DHD 4 was contacted was done without input from board members.
“Then, when our chairperson did that, they had three or four department heads in the conversation with the health officer, but none of the commissioners,” he said.
County Commissioner Greg Illig, who made the motion to hold off with the payment, said since Benjamin’s appointment as provisional health officer in 2009, an appointment the state will revoke in November, the health department has suffered.
“We’ve had layoffs of people over there,” he said, “They’ve cut back services to people.”
“The way I understand it, we’ve lost some grant money because of her,” added Commissioner Scott Colclasure.
Sharing a health officer with DHD 4 should have been investigated last year when the Board of Health was inquiring about a merger with DHD 4, Scott said.
“We looked at District 4 with a merger,” she said. “They weren’t interested at all.”
Scott added that the three candidates who were interviewed to be the new health officer were all deemed qualified by the state.
“The state of Michigan sent Mark Miller (Department of Technology, Management and Budget Contact for Community Health) up here. He sat in on the interviews and told us those three candidates were qualified,” she said. “They were told to wait by their phones for us to call them to negotiate with them. Those people were never even called.”
“Isn’t the new candidate going to cost us less than the person we currently have?” Commissioner Bruce Reetz asked Scott.
She responded that negotiations did not proceed enough to find out the actual cost for wages and benefits for a potential replacement.
Hennard, however, said he was worried that withholding the payment could affect the county’s credit rating, and further affect the delivery of health department services to the community.
“I think this is a board problem, not a public problem,” he said. “If we don’t make our quarterly payment on time, I think it makes us look bad.”
DHD 2 serves Ogemaw, Oscoda, Iosco and Alcona counties.