Does Grand County need an independent health board? Workshop coming Aug. 10
Local group continues to gin up support before taking proposal to county commissioners
Saying an independent board of health could help solve some of Grand County’s most pervasive problems, a grassroots group is gearing up to make their case before county commissioners on Aug. 10.
Engaged Citizens for a Healthier Grand County sprung up about five or six months ago out of the coronavirus pandemic and East Troublesome Fire. However, John Riedel, who’s helping lead the lobbying effort, said their work extends much further than that.
“We have no standing — we’re not a not-for-profit or anything — we’re just a group of interested citizens who’ve come together and really worked hard to figure out what the problems are,” Riedel said.
He explained that after forming their group, Engaged Citizens quickly began to see the affordable housing crisis and rapid growth in the county, especially among the 65-and-older population, as two more complex public health issues also plaguing Grand.
“All of these things (the fire, pandemic, housing and growth) kind of came together, and we said, ‘We think the solution to all of these issues is to have an independent board of health that would support the commissioners, who are the current board of health, but don’t have any background in public health at all,” Riedel said.
According to Riedel, Engaged Citizens for a Healthier Grand County includes five people with medical degrees, as well as three public health degrees. The 13 people who formed the group extend from Kremmling to Winter Park, so they represent the entire county “pretty well,” he added.
Their goal is to convince county commissioners, who currently serve as the board overseeing the county’s health department, that an independent health board would benefit not only local residents but commissioners too.
“We’re trying to make a difference for Grand County as a whole. We think this is the right thing to do,” Riedel said. “There’s also a benefit to commissioners. They end up making decisions they don’t know much about, so this would give them the opportunity to have additional minds that are focused on these things.”
Some of the arguments against an independent board of health are that Grand is too small and already struggles to fill volunteer seats with a limited pool of qualified, capable applicants. Others worry an independent board of health would be an unnecessary, additional layer of local government.
Riedel doesn’t agree with any of that, and he pointed to the 13 people who formed Engaged Citizens group as clear evidence there are plenty of people qualified, ready and willing to serve.
“We tried to refute that off the bat by showing we have five MDs, three (masters of public health degrees), four nurses, a judge,” Riedel said. “These are all people who have devoted time to creating this proposal, so do I think there’s a lack (of interest)? Absolutely not.”
Riedel also said it’s premature to dive too deep into exactly what form an independent health board might take without commissioners first backing the effort. However, he believes such a board could offer expertise on problems like the lack of options for hospice or water quality issues following the Troublesome fire, in addition to the effect the housing crisis is having on people’s health.
“Our challenge is somehow showing (county commissioners) that this is a plus to them and to our county, and to all of our residents,” Riedel said. “This is not taking something away from them; this is adding to what we already have, making things better — better advice, better experience, all of that.”
According to Riedel, Engaged Citizens first brought the idea to commissioners during public comments on May 18. Following the brief presentation, the county scheduled the group for a two-hour workshop.
The workshop will be from 3-5 p.m. Aug. 10 at the County Building in Hot Sulphur Springs. If the presentation goes well, Riedel hopes commissioners will consider a formal proposal the group is working on.
For more about Engaged Citizens for a Healthier Grand County or the group’s upcoming presentation before county commissioners, email Riedel at firstname.lastname@example.org. To following county commission meetings online, go to http://www.co.grand.co.us and click on the “listen to meetings” button.
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