The Highland County General Health District Board of Health conducted what Health Commissioner Jared Warner said will probably be the final meeting of the year Thursday at the health department offices in the North High Business Center in Hillsboro.
Warner described the Thursday morning agenda as a normal monthly meeting that addressed closing out the 2019 tasks and budget and looking forward to 2020.
“We want to make sure we’re maintaining the department in a fiscally responsible way and setting ourselves up for success next year,” he said. “That’s going to be difficult with the 1989 levy going away at the end of the year and operating on another that’s been in place since 2001, so we’re in a difficult place financially.”
Budgets for the upcoming year are a concern, he said, since the expiration of the 1989 levy will leave the health department with a deficit of around $180,000, which he said was roughly 10 percent of the annual operating budget.
He said a couple grants and adjustments to personnel have helped and projected carryover figures from 2019 would keep the department solvent in the upcoming calendar year, but he has great concerns for 2021.
“We’re at the point now where we can’t do some of the state mandated programs as often as we’d like or need to,” he said. “The staff and the funding to support it just isn’t there, and yet the state law requires us to do some important things and we are barely keeping up.”
A $500,000, five-year operating levy will be on the March primary ballot, and Warner was frank about its passage or rejection for a third time by voters.
“Without that funding, we’re not going to be able to operate the health department the way we’re mandated by the state to operate,” he said. “It’s not to going to go for any extravagant spending, we’re not going to be buying office furniture or purchasing vehicles, but it’ll be used to pay the bills, maintain staff costs, and keep this office in compliance with the law of the land that comes from Columbus.”
The nationwide subjects of vaping and gun violence, which he called the “big ticket items” in the local health care environment, were also discussed Thursday. Warner said he recently gave presentations to junior high school students at Hillsboro and Lynchburg-Clay concerning vaping and the potential health hazards associated with it.
Another health threat he said was much easier to prevent due to immunization was the reappearance of the flu, which typically begins the week of Thanksgiving and can extend almost to Memorial Day.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that last year’s flu season dragged on for nearly 21 weeks, setting a record for the longest in a decade.
Influenza vaccine has been available in the area since late summer with the health department stepping up efforts at immunization since September.
“It’s been an interesting start to the flu season,” he said. “There have been reports of one of the lesser strains of flu being more prevalent than usual so far.”
At the conclusion of Thursday’s year-end meeting, he said the mission of the health department is three-fold: to keep children healthy, to ensure a safe food supply, and to keep the environment clean.
Warner said the board of health meets every third Thursday of the month at 9 a.m., and the public is encouraged and welcome to attend.
The next meeting will be Jan. 16 at the health department offices at the North High Business Center, which is located at 1487 N. High St. in Hillsboro.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571