Grand County commissioners discuss local health inspections
May 10, 2013
Grand County Commissioners discussed the possibility of localizing health inspections, a recent trend in Colorado counties.
If Grand County were to move forward with the proposal, it could have its own environmental health inspector rather than a state inspector. Other options include working with neighboring counties to localize health inspection efforts and leaving Grand County's environmental health inspections in the state's hands.
"Some counties use a state inspector and some use an inspector from another county," said Kathleen Matthews, director of Planning and Partnerships of the Department of Public Health and Environment for the State of Colorado, "particularly in small counties where there is never enough dollars or need to have full time inspectors and full-time environmental health programs."
"We always add another category to rural, urban, and frontier counties and that is the resort counties," she continued, "because when you have a lot of tourism, camps, festivals, etcetera, there is a lot of work around environmental health. Even though a population of a county might not be so large, the actual work involved in environmental health can be pretty substantial."
Grand County currently has about 200 restaurants that require inspection and a number of other establishments such as schools that require inspections. It was estimated that around 275 health inspections take place in Grand County in a year.
"We have been trying to move this into more locally provided services for a couple of reasons," Matthews said. "Its not just about coming in and inspecting restaurants if you had one that was having trouble, it is that there is someone there who can help with training."
A localized inspection would include retail food services and school laboratories, to monitoring water and air quality as well as responding to health emergencies such as an outbreak of salmonella.
"We are not here to protect the environment per se, that's not our primary goal except that the environment and its health affects human health," said Dan Hendershott, Environmental Health Manager in Summit County. "Fifty to 60 percent of our job involves what we call the consumer protection program, which is currently being provided by the state in your county. That includes retail food, child care inspections, and school inspections."
"With inspections at a local level, inspectors would be able to establish positive and trusting relationships with restaurant owners," Hendershott said. "This would help them to educate the owners instead of purely regulating the restaurants, which would ultimately help to produce compliance with health standards.
"The fastest way we can have compliance is through education and not only telling them what they have to do, but also why its important for them to do it," he said.
With inspections in the hands of the state, restaurants do not receive individualized attention as they would if the inspections were localized, according to Hendershott.
"I know the commissioners have had that concern about restaurant inspections for awhile now," said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran. "We had a couple of pretty stark examples of the regulatory hammer."
But the commissioners may not be willing to add more government, she said.
"First of all, (we're) trying not to create another department or another arm of government because that is not what people are asking of [the Commissioners] right now, they're actually asking them to reduce that," she said.
"Have we heard a desire from our constituents that this is something they want?" asked Grand County Commissioner Chair James Newberry.
The commissioners asked if it could be a possibility to send out a questionnaires to local restaurant owners with information about the possible change to the way inspections are conducted, to see whether it would be something they would want.
"I think we need to know if there is a need or a want for it in Grand County before we really go any further on it," said Grand County Commissioner Merrit Linke.
While there would be some possible funding mechanisms through the Public Health Act if the county were to move forward, the county would also look at neighboring counties to see if there would be a possibility of working towards a localized environmental health inspection service corroboratively.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334