Proposed county health department changes

By County Judge David Barkemeyer

In another attempt to reduce costs, at Monday’s regular meeting of Commissioner’s Court we voted to table a motion have Region 7 of the Texas Department of State Health Services take over the operation of the Milam County Health Department. If this is approved at the April 11 the region would assume responsibility for providing the clinical services for TB, immunizations, sexually transmitted diseases (STD), and HIV plus the Public Health Preparedness program. The county will them provide office and clinic space in the same locations in Cameron and Rockdale but schedules will be reduced to one or two days per week.

Some services that were reporting to the County Health Department would be kept in the county and report to the Commissioner’s Court through the County Judge. These would be the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, Milam County Indigent Health Care, and the Septic Inspection/Permitting programs. The region does not handle these services.
These changes would result in a reduction in the Health Department budget for 2017 to approximately $100,000 with some $30,000 of that being recouped through septic permitting fees and $15,000 through other fees that will be continued through local immunization programs, which we are planning to continue. This compares to the 2016 budget, which was set at $262,000 and a 2015 actual expenditure of almost $200,000.
These services that continue to report to the county would be staffed five days per week. The current Milam County Health Department and the Texas Department of Health folks are working hard to have only the name on the door change from “County’ to “Regional” Health Department with the goal of keeping all activities and services available to the citizens of Milam County.
Obviously there will be an impact on service, but the attempt will be to minimize the impact. The reality is that due to the continued drop in the county’s tax base, we need to look for ways to reduce costs. There are only a half dozen counties the size of Milam county or smaller that have their own county health departments, the rest participate in regionally administered programs. Region 7 is made up of some 30 counties, only 5 others have individual county health departments: Bell, Williamson, Travis, McLennan, and Brazos ranging in population from over 200,000 to a million plus. Seven are larger than Milam County but do not have their own health departments, so why should we continue to try to maintain our own separate department here?
So in my opinion it is appropriate for Milam County to join the ranks of all the other counties like us that have their health programs administered on a regional basis rather than trying to pay for it locally. I believe the Commissioner’s Court should vote to make this change so that we will be in a better position to plan to further reduce expenditures where possible in the 2017 budget plan. I’m told we are going to be faced with the situation of not having a resolution to the Luminant property valuation litigation at the time we plan the 2017 budget in the August/September 2016 time frame, so we must plan 2017 with continued uncertainty regarding future tax revenue.