George Teal, Lora Thomas and Abe Laydon (copy)

Douglas County commissioners, from left: George Teal, Lora Thomas and Abe Laydon

Douglas County commissioners Tuesday appointed five people to the as-yet-formed Douglas County Health Department’s board of health, including two commissioners with no obvious experience in medical or health-care fields.

It’s the second step necessary for Douglas County to create its own department after voting unanimously last week to leave the Tri-County Health Department after 55 years. The board vehemently disagreed with Tri-County’s recent masking orders that affect children indoors and its recent decision to remove the “opt-out of health orders” clause it had adopted when Douglas threatened to leave in 2020.

Douglas County currently pays $2.5 million annually for its approximately 358,000 residents to receive services delivered by 60 programs, including birth certificates, restaurant inspections, immunizations and others, according to Tri-County. It figures out to about $7.10 per resident.

Those services will continue at least through 2021, as Douglas County has already paid for them.

The other two counties in the district are Arapahoe and Adams. Arapahoe pays $4.7 million annually for services, while Adams pays $3.8 million. The Department’s total budget in fiscal year 2021 was $55 million, serving about 1.6 million residents in the three counties.

Commissioners appointed two of their own, Lora Thomas and George Teal, to serve on the new 5-member board. They also appointed two former Tri-County board members from Douglas County Dr. Linda Fielding and Kim Muramoto, a registered nurse. Also appointed was Doug Benevento, who is a lawyer at Faegre Drinker, former Douglas County School Board member and former head of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment 19 years ago.

Asked what qualifications she or Teal had to serve on a public health board, Thomas said: “That’s a fair question. We’re starting a new board and a new health department, so the commissioners have a fiduciary responsibility of taxpayer dollars. We’re on there to monitor what it’s costing to build a new department.”

Teal said his qualifications go back to his work in the software industry for 23 years as a change manager over organizational changes, acquisitions and mergers.

“I felt it was important for me to be on the new board of health during the formation period to where I could keep an eye out for change management issues that will be coming up,” he said.

Benevento was appointed in part because of his experience as former deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Thomas said.

She also pointed out though many smaller counties routinely appoint commissioners to the health board, so too does El Paso County. Douglas county has a population of 357,978 and El Paso’s is 730,395, based on the 2020 census data.

Teal said despite some uncertainty on behalf of Adams and Arapahoe county officials about the future, Douglas County is willing to work with them to make the transition smoother.

“We’re willing work with them now and maintain the business arrangement,” Teal said. “We still need the services and Tri-County is the best source for those services right now. We’re willing to talk about it and work towards a meaningful financial commitment and services commitment.”

The county has hired Health Management Association to do a community health assessment, the Colorado Health Institute and Tom Butt’s Colorado Environmental Health Association. Teal did not know what the county is paying the consultants and a County spokesperson has yet to provide that information a week after it was requested by the Denver Gazette.

Editors note: The County provided the contracts to the Gazette Wednesday. The Colorado Environmental Health Association cost $35,000; the Colorado Health Institute cost $80,500; the Health Management Association cost $144,720 for a total of $260,220.

“It didn’t cost $2.5 million,” Teal said, referring to how much the county pays Tri-County. “It didn’t cost $9 million or $12 million, which is the worst-case scenario budget.. I understand people are concerned about our investment.”

The third and final step will be the first meeting of the new board, which is expected to happen before Oct. 1.

A town hall “The Future of Public Health Services in Douglas County” is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 28.