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Cowlitz County Board of Health to expand beyond commissioners and include providers, citizens under new state law
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Cowlitz County Board of Health to expand beyond commissioners and include providers, citizens under new state law

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Arne Mortensen in 2017

Cowlitz County Commissioner Arne Mortensen, left, listens to a constituent’s comments during a break in a commissioners' meeting in December 2017.

The Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners will add at least three new members to the county’s Board of Health to comply with new state law passed in mid-April, according to the county health department.

Director Carole Harrison alerted the commissioners about the new law last week during the Board of Health meeting. The changes take effect July 1, 2022.

Commissioner Dennis Weber said Monday he’s open to expanding the board.

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“I always thought it made sense to have more people involved. I’m not at all opposed to the idea that we link providers and consumers and public health certificated folks to help round out our discussions and conversations,” he said. “None of us on the board have expertise in healthcare. It’s a complex subject, especially with the pandemic.”

The newly-passed legislation started as a proposal to regionalize boards of health by grouping counties into nine “comprehensive health services districts.” Throughout the legislative session, the bill was altered and the final version doesn’t include creating regional districts.

The legislation establishes a state Public Health Advisory Board to monitor the public health system, develop goals for public health in the state and evaluate funding uses. The board will be made up representatives from the state, counties, local health jurisdictions and healthcare groups.

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Most local health boards are comprised primarily of county commissioners, who could choose to add more people to the board. The new law requires health boards to have an even balance of elected and non-elected officials.

The non-elected officials must include a certified healthcare provider practicing or employed in the county; a county resident who has faced health inequities or has participated in public health related programs; and a representative of a organization or nonprofit, business community, environmental public health regulated community or armed service member.

In counties where a federally recognized tribe holds a reservation, trust lands or has “usual and accustomed areas,” or where a Washington nonprofit serves Native American people, the board must also include a tribal representative.

It’s unclear if the Cowlitz County board is required to include a Cowlitz Tribe representative, said County Health and Human Services Communications Manager Stefanie Donahue.

The Cowlitz Tribe’s reservation is in Clark County but the tribe’s administrative offices are in Longview, as well as one of its primary care clinics.

Weber said it would make sense to have a Cowlitz Tribe representative on the board because of the tribe’s large presence in the county and it would be helpful to have their perspective.

The Washington State Board of Health is expected to release more guidance about the changes to local health boards over the coming months, Donahue said. Once more information is available, the county commissioners and health department will hold a workshop likely in the fall or winter to talk through the new requirements and the next steps, she said.

“By bringing health professionals and community stakeholders to the table, the change will help improve representation and broaden the board’s knowledge base,” Donahue said.

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