During an upcoming July 22 meeting, the Elbert County Board of County Commissioners will decide whether or not to reorganize the county’s public health program by separating it into two offices. …
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During an upcoming July 22 meeting, the Elbert County Board of County Commissioners will decide whether or not to reorganize the county’s public health program by separating it into two offices.
Under the proposal, the Elbert County Department of Health and Human Services would become simply the Elbert County Department of Human Services, under the continuing leadership of Jerri Spear, while some operations would move to a separate Elbert County Department of Health, led by Dwayne Smith, who is now administrator of public health.
What exactly does that mean for the approximately 25,000 residents of Elbert County?
According to Elbert County Deputy Manager Eileen Krauth, it will mean better services from both departments. The two were combined nearly 10 years ago due to budget cuts when the county suffered from an economic downturn.
“Years ago, when the county was in a budget crisis, there were reasons to combine the health department and the human services department under one director for budget reasons,” said Krauth. “The county also had a public health nurse, who was cut for budget reasons as well.”
The separation of the two departments will help simplify the budget for the county, as the human services department is funded by the state, while the health department is funded by the county general fund. Spear, director of human services, and her department have been handling duties of both departments for years, but with the hiring of Dwayne Smith late last year, commissioners hope both departments can focus on their individual duties.
“We hired Dwayne late last year as our public health administrator,” said Krauth. “He was an excellent hire and is very experienced. Now that the county is on better financial footing, we are in a place to make sure we can do this right.”
The human services department is responsible for managing foster care issues, children and family programs, as well as child and adult protective services.
If commissioners approve the separation of the departments, the department of health will focus on ongoing COVID-19 issues and keeping community members up to date on safety issues and changing guidelines. The department will also perform restaurant inspections, septic inspections, dealing with rabid skunks and providing vaccination and maternal child health programs. There is currently an open position for a public health nurse to add to the department.
“Ensuring that our county government is structured in a way that best serves our citizens is critical,” said Commissioner Chris Richardson. “The consolidation of the human services department and public health was a necessary cost-saving move made nearly a decade ago. Now, as priorities have shifted from septic permitting, restaurant inspections and rabid skunks to responding and recovering from COVID-19, it is clear that we, like many rural counties, need to build a more robust public health capability. Elevating the public health department in our county structure allows for more focused funding and effective provision of the broader array of services we envision for our county’s residents.”
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