Health District may become county department
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — The county’s independent health authority has agreed to become a department within Snohomish County government.
Momentum accelerated last week as the Snohomish Health District’s governing board voted 13-0 for integrating.
Leaders hope to have everything combined by Jan. 1, 2023.
The Health District conducts restaurant inspections, monitors communicable disease trends, provides vaccinations, issues food handler cards, manages vital birth and death records and enforces public health laws, among many other functions.
The two governments teamed up closer than ever while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
The integration plan takes the whole Health District and turns it into the county health department bureau.
This week after press time, the County Council is expected to vote yes to mutually agree to move forward. The five County Council members have seats on the Health District’s board, and each voted in favor of merging last week.
The district would maintain semi-autonomous status. It would continue to be governed by its own board. County spokesman Kent Patton said the district’s finances would be safeguarded as a separate dedicated account.
The proposal drafted by County Executive Dave Somers is recent, but the idea to merge has been marinating for years.
“Integration has been discussed for many years. Now was the best time to pursue it,” Patton said.
Unifying on COVID-19 punctuated how joining together makes sense, Lacey Harper, an executive director in the county, explained during the May 25 County Council meeting.
The Health District and county paired efforts in fighting the opioid epidemic well before the pandemic, too.
“These two organizations should become one for the best interests of our citizens’ public health,” Harper said during the May 25 presentation.
The district, founded in 1959, is funded primarily through state and federal contributions. It has no taxing authority.
The county government funded about 5.5% of the Health District’s total 2022 budget. That was through both direct contributions and money collected by the one-tenth-of-one-percent sales tax for mental health. Pre-COVID, though, the county’s chunk was larger: multimillion dollar grants from the federal government are skewing the percentages for who pays in.
The Snohomish Health District’s leadership structure would stay the same.
The Health District’s administrative officer is Shawn Frederick; he has handled day-to-day operations at the district since June 2019. Its Health Officer currently is Dr. Chris Spitters, who plans to retire June 30.
The county has “committed to ensuring no (health district) staff lose their jobs as a result of integration,” Somers’ memo says.
The county health department’s name is poised to be Public Health Snohomish County.
The Sound Foundation for Public Health, a nonprofit that fundraises to support the Health District, should not be affected by the transition, Harper said.
Additional information on the county's funding contribution to the Snohomish Health District from Health District spokeswoman Kari Bray:
Below are the percentages of Health District revenues that were from Snohomish County (this includes county per capita and tuberculosis control dollars) for the three years prior to the start of COVID.
- 2017: 14%
- 2018: 13%
- 2019: 13%
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