La Plata County seeks candidates for newly formed board of health – The Durango Herald

The non-trivial workload does not include financial compensation, but is a chance to serve the community at a critical time

La Plata County will create a new health department next year and is looking for seven people to serve on the Board of Health. (Durango Herald file)

La Plata County is accepting applications for qualified staff for its Board of Health, which will oversee the establishment and management of La Plata County’s new Department of Public Health.

La Plata and Archuleta County Commissioners passed a joint resolution Nov. 15 to dissolve the existing San Juan Basin Public Health effective Dec. 31, 2023. La Plata County will be accepting applications for the new board until Dec. 9 in order to put the board in place by the end of this year.

County Commissioner and SJBPH Board of Health member Marcia Porter-Norton said the county is seeking a diverse group of candidates for the seven-seat board.

“What we’re going to need to create a department are people who are strategic thinkers, people who have deep knowledge of the community and knowledge of how the new systems work,” Porter-Norton said.

The board of health will be responsible for selecting a director of public health for the county’s health department, recommending a budget and other management duties once the department is operational. Members are expected to meet monthly or biweekly in 2023 as the board creates a new department. The position is unpaid.

The current health department collapsed under the growing strain of political and social division between the two counties. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown this divide into stark relief. While localizing public health in just one county will likely have benefits, the new board will face a similar challenge in serving its politically and ideologically diverse constituency within La Plata County.

Porter-Norton said ensuring the board includes members who come from all over the county will be critical to meeting the challenge. Because there are certain aspects of public health that “people just don’t like,” Porter-Norton said community outreach will be critical, especially in the coming year.

In an effort to quell any politicization, the board will not have a county commissioner. The SJBPH board includes a commissioner from each county.

“One of the things that happened in the pandemic is the realization that sometimes you can conflate the goals of elected officials — some people would call it political goals or ideological goals — with public health, and our view is that that’s not the best the good way,” Porter-Norton said.

Her term on the SJBPH board will end when the department is dissolved.

Although existing SJBPH board members have the opportunity to apply for a position on the county board of health, they will be required to serve on both boards concurrently if elected. In addition to the two county commissioners, the SJBPH board consists of Shere Byrd, professor of biology at Fort Lewis College; Bob Ledger, former Durango City Manager; Terrill Peterson, financial expert; and Dr. John Bruce, president of a clinical drug development consulting firm.

None of them could be reached for comment on whether they would seek a seat on the new board.

The public health remit covers a wide range of issues and the new board will have a newly drafted public health improvement plan to guide them. SJBPH currently receives funding from 42 different grants.

Porter-Norton said she hopes the board strikes a balance between addressing human health and environmental health. The board’s first mandate, however, will be to make the agency work, which means the first group of board members may need to have a slightly different skill set than those who succeed them.

The first set of terms will vary in length to stagger the departure of members, and subsequent terms will be five years in length.

The Board of County Commissioners will conduct interviews on December 16 and 19 at a public meeting. To apply for the board, submit a letter of interest and resume on the county website.

Despite the nontrivial workload without financial compensation, Porter-Norton said the call for applications represents an opportunity to give back to the community.

“It’s a chance to really apply your vision and perspectives and your work to a better outcome for a better community,” she said.

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