WV county health departments should merge

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A local agency is serving as a potential model for the rest of the state, as economic strategists begin to take to heart suggestions from Drema Mace, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. Mace has an idea that might save West Virginia $12.5 million a year; and West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research believes she is onto something – consolidate local health departments into nine district health departments.

It works here. The MOV Health Department serves Calhoun, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt and Wood counties.

“Ultimately, these consolidated health departments create the potential for lowering system-wide expenditures by eliminating overlapping administrative functions and administrative costs, and could also generate additional revenue as areas that once lacked the ability to provide certain services to residents could now do so thanks to the availability of sufficient staff and resources,” WVUBBER concluded, in a study of Mace’s proposal.

Lawmakers need this kind of thinking, if they are to find any relief from the scramble to save money and increase revenue. To give some idea of how they are working toward that goal now, State Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling is backing a bill that would let local health departments bill insurance companies as much as allowed by law, essentially shifting cost from the state to the insurance companies. That bill is being touted as having the potential to save the state somewhere between $3.8 million and $7.7 million.

Though the WVU study concludes more research is needed to get districting right, regions in which it has already been tried are examples of success. When Putnam County joined forces with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, it was able to erase a $400,000 debt in two years.

Mace’s proposal is not yet on the table for lawmakers this session, but perhaps it should be.

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