Salem could return to county health fold

SALEM – Mayor John Berlin said Wednesday he will be contacting the Columbiana County Health Department to ask what the county would charge to provide the city with health department services.

Berlin announced his intentions during a special meeting of the city health board, explaining that the department may be running at a deficit. He said he spoke with a member of the City Council’s finance committee who asked him to contact the county to see what the prices would be.

When asked for more specifics, Berlin said he spoke to the chairman of the committee, Councilman K. Bret Apple, on Tuesday about the situation with the health department. The mayor said Auditor Betty Brothers had already given them a projection of a deficit in the health department. General fund money would be required eventually to meet obligations.

Berlin said the department should be okay for 2013, but if not, he said appropriations may need to be made and it’s always best to be prepared to answer questions that may come up. How much the county would charge if the city suspended its operations would be a valid question.

“This department was set up to be self-sustaining,” he said.

That doesn’t appear to be the case now as the numbers in the income-producing areas of birth and death certificates continue to drop. Berlin said he didn’t see any issues coming up until later in the year. He said they have sufficient funds to continue the operation with the resources available for a good while.

He said he just wants to be prepared with an answer when the time comes for him to go to the finance committee. He said the process has to be started. The council will have to decide whether they want to pay more to keep the office open in Salem for the convenience of the residents or not.

The city reopened its own health department in June 2009 after then city Auditor Jim Armeni questioned what the city was receiving from the county for what it was paying for health services. The city previously had its own health department for many years, then disbanded it and started contracting with the county sometime in the early ’90s.

For the first two years of operation, the city was charging food establishments the same fees that the county had been charging, but learned through a cost methodology that the fees charged by the city should be less based on the cost of the sanitarian. The county had more employees and worked full-time while the city had just a part-time sanitarian. The board ended up reducing the fees, which in turn reduced the amount of money going into the health department budget. The fees for this year were increased, but Berlin said they’re still less than what the county charges.

In an effort to tackle the deficit, the board reduced the vital statistics registrar job to part-time after the long-time full-time registrar retired Oct. 31 and hired a new registrar to work part-time hours. They also reduced the hours of operation for the health department.

Previously, copies of birth certificates had to be secured from the health district where the birth occurred, but now copies of birth certificates are available statewide from any district in Ohio, which could be contributing to the decrease in birth certificates.

The health department also gets fees for inoculations, but currently can’t give any shots until the new drug license for 2013 is secured. Due to an oversight, the application for the new license wasn’t submitted to the state and the license lapsed. Paperwork has since been filled out and the department is waiting for the license to be printed and mailed to the city.

The mayor’s announcement regarding the county was strictly informational to let his fellow health board members know what was happening.

The board met in special session to approve an application for the maternity licensure for Salem Community Hospital’s maternity ward, which had to be signed by city Health Commissioner Richard Setty and returned to the state.