Residents group proposes independent board of health for Grand County

A group of residents want Grand County commissioners to consider establishing an independent board of health.

Following a year in which public health was at the forefront, a proposal by the Engaged Citizens for a Healthier Grand County aims to create a board of health separate from the commissioners, who currently serve as the county’s board of health.

Because of Grand’s small population, county commissioners are allowed to appoint themselves as the board of health. However, state law permits the county to appoint an independent board of health if commissioners so desire it.

Representing the group, John Riedel pitched the idea at Tuesday’s commission meeting during public comments. For reasons, he cited the public health impacts Grand has faced in the past year, including the COVID-19 pandemic and East Troublesome Fire, along with the growing complexities of public health policy on top of the county’s swelling population.

“An independent board would help meet the demands of a growing Grand County,” Riedel said.

According to Colorado Statute, the board of health selects and advises the public health director, approves the local five-year health plan, helps develop policies for public health, and manages financial oversight for the health department.

If the county were to create an independent board of health, commissioners would appoint the members to the board. Riedel suggested the group be made up of five to seven members, the majority of whom would be required to have professional expertise in public health areas.

The group, which formed several months ago, highlighted its extensive research into possible approaches for an independent board of health. They conducted a number of interviews with health department directors in small counties that chose to have their own independent boards of health.

“We heard consistently that this approach to public health leadership is quite effective,” the proposal read.

The group argued that the county would be better served by a health board focused entirely on public health, rather than managed by commissioners, who must address a plurality of issues in Grand.

“Public health is a complex issue and the BOCC simply does not have the time to focus exclusively on public health issues,” the proposal added.

The group asserted that there is sufficient interest from community members to serve on an independent board to continue addressing public health issues beyond the pandemic. The proposal lists 13 group members putting forth this proposal, with most holding degrees in health-related fields.

“Many highly educated Grand County residents are retired and looking for ways to contribute to our wonderful county,” the proposal said. “… This proposed board of health would promote services that are science-based but also consistent with our Grand County culture.”

Of Colorado’s 64 counties, 26 have commissioners who serve on health boards, which led to some controversy as the pandemic grew political through the last year. Earlier this year, House Bill 21-1115 proposed removing commissioners’ ability to simultaneously serve on public health boards.

Grand County commissioners previously expressed opposition to such a move, citing the county’s small population. Along with Grand, a number of other rural counties pushed back against the measure.

The bill has since been scaled back to still allow commissioners to serve on health boards. Instead, it calls for anyone serving on the public health board to take an annual training.

The Engaged Citizens for a Healthier Grand County also proposed that members receive relevant training and be officially certified. The group argued that this proposal for an independent board of health would better serve Grand as a whole.

“We think there’s great potential for this to make our county better,” Riedel said.

The commissioners did not comment on the proposal Tuesday but plan to schedule a workshop to further discuss the idea.

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