Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

County commissioners must take a stronger role as CHD transitions

by: Tyler Graf As we all know by now, voters in November gave a clear directive to the health district board to shut down the hospital project once and for all, and wisely the board adhered to that strong message and soon followed up by broadcasting that all work on the hospital project has been halted.

It's a turbulent time for the Columbia Health District.

For the last several years the CHD board has been scrutinized relentlessly for its pursuit of a hospital that had seen its cost balloon nearly fivefold and its service offering dwindle to a shadow of the original vision.

As we all know by now, voters in November gave a clear directive to the health district board to shut down the hospital project once and for all, and wisely the board adhered to that strong message and soon followed up by broadcasting that all work on the hospital project has been halted.

But there are a lot of loose strings.

Foremost it is becoming increasingly clear that the turbulence within the CHD is affecting the decisions about how the county's public health system is run. Important to note is that public health service in Columbia County is fully separate and severable from the health district, which was established via a 2004 vote with the sole purpose of building the hospital.

Once established, Columbia County in essence hired CHD to manage the county's public health services. Ultimately Columbia County, and not the health district, is responsible for providing public health services to its residents.

That is why it is somewhat unsettling - ludicrous, even - that the health district distributed a press release expressing its intent to begin moving the county's public health services to a nonprofit, as reported in The Spotlight's March 16 edition.

Even more unsettling is that, by all appearances, health district and Columbia County representatives have neglected to jointly map out an orderly process for ensuring public health services are not interrupted. Yes, it is the county's ultimate responsibility, but if county officials have plans for public health other than leaving it in the hands of the beleaguered health district, perhaps conveying those plans before the district dissolves would benefit everyone involved.

On another note, there should be a general, loud outcry from people living within the health district that, in fact, it is now known the health district was paying a good chunk of its public health services provided equally to all county residents out of the bank accounts of those living solely within the district.

We have to wonder how and why those at the reins of the health district felt entitled to tap tax revenue specifically solicited for the purpose of a building a hospital for the alternative use of backfilling public health services. That's a separate expense and should have been handled as such.

Though the health district reduced the tax rate from 38 cents to 7.7 cents of $1,000 assessed home value, the notion that a percentage of the tax is being used for a service other than what it was intended should be a bone of contention for district residents - who are paying a subsidy not shouldered by others receiving the same services.

Some have argued that, because the core public health services are offered predominately in the St. Helens area, those living outside the St. Helens-Scappoose vicinity are lesser served and hence there is justification for taxing those in the district for convenience's sake. This is a false argument. Instead, those who provide public health should be working toward delivery of services to all areas equitably, and if there is added associated costs the bill should be picked up by everyone in the district. But that requires planning and communication, two disciplines sorely lacking in this debacle.