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La Plata County Seeks Candidates for Newly Formed Board of Health – The Durango Herald

Non-trivial workload includes no financial compensation, but is a chance to serve community during a critical time

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La Plata County will be establishing a new health department over the 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 appointments for its board of health, which will oversee the establishment and management of the new La Plata County Public Health Department.

Commissioners from La Plata and Archuleta counties passed a joint resolution on Nov. 15 to dissolve the existing San Juan Basin Public Health effective Dec. 31, 2023. La Plata County will accept applications for the new board until Dec. 9 so it can replace the board against have the end of this year in place.

County Commissioner and member of the SJBPH Board of Health Marsha Porter-Norton said the county is looking for a diverse composition of applicants for the seven-seat board.

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

The board of health will be responsible for selecting a director of public health for the health department in the province, recommending a budget and other management duties once the department is up and running. Members are expected to meet monthly or bi-weekly during 2023 as the board establishes a new department. The post is unpaid.

The current health department has broken down under the growing strain of a political and social divide between the two provinces. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought that division into high 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 from all corners of the country 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 next year.

In an effort to suppress any semblance of politicization, there will not be a district commissioner on the board. The SJBPH board includes a commissioner from each country.

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

Her term of office on the SJBPH board will come to an end with the dissolution of the department.

While existing SJBPH board members have the option to apply for a position on the district health board, they will be required to serve on both boards concurrently if selected. In addition to the two county commissioners, the SJBPH board is composed of Shere Byrd, a biology professor at Fort Lewis College; Bob Ledger, former city manager of Durango; Terryl Peterson, a financial expert; and dr. Jon Bruss, president of a clinical drug development consulting firm.

Neither could be reached for comment on whether they would seek a position on the new board.

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

Porter-Norton said she hopes the board can strike a balance between addressing human health and environmental health. However, the board’s first mandate will be to get the agency up and running, which means that 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 long.

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

Despite the not insignificant workload with no financial compensation, Porter-Norton said the call for applicants offers an opportunity to give back to the community.

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

rschafir@durangoherald.com

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