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Boyle, Garrard health departments sharing director to save money

The Boyle and Garrard County Health Departments have combined resources as a way to save money and preserve services for their communities. Boyle County Health Department Director Brent Blevins is now leading both departments.

Following the retirement of Garrard’s director, Marcia Hodge on Oct. 31, Blevins officially started leading both agencies on Nov. 1.

“Ultimately it was up to each board of health from both counties to agree to this contract,” Blevins said. The boards’ decision to work together is largely “due to decreased public health funding that started in the past and will continue,” Blevins said. “Additionally, this gives the health departments the opportunity to combine our resources to offer stronger services to all citizens.”

Under the Boyle/Garrard contract, Blevins’ salary will continue to be paid by the Boyle County Health Department and every month, Garrard County Health Department will pay Boyle for his director services. Both health boards will continue to meet regularly as they have been. The common link between the boards will be Blevins, who will be updating them and developing programs that the counties can work together on.

“With reductions in funding, it will be imperative that we find new ways of providing public health services … There are fewer dollars being provided to health departments from both the state and federal level,” Blevins said. “This in turns puts more pressure on the local communities to find funding to continue the needed programs.”

“The potential consequences of not having public health services serving a community could be devastating, i.e. disease outbreaks, emergency preparedness support, environmental inspections or both food services and septic systems,” Blevins stated.

The increasing cost of Kentucky’s retirement system for state workers is also a “major issue,” Blevins said.

“This will require most health departments to almost double the amount of funds they have to pay to the retirement system to cover the cost of the employee’s retirement,” he said.

In Boyle County, retirement increases and salaries will wind up costing about $200,000 a year, Blevins said.

At the same time, the Boyle County Health Department has lost between $65,000 and $70,000 in combined budgeted funding from the state and federal levels from 2017 to 2019, Blevins said. Blevins said the local health department is “very efficient” in running its programs, but it’s a struggle to maintain services.

“This scenario is true of many different businesses both government and the private world. The ability to partner with another county to provide services is a solid way to deal with these financial constraints,” Blevins said.

To have a successful transition and build a “new framework” for Boyle and Garrard County Health Departments to join resources, Blevins said he and Hodge worked together for several months before he took over.

He said both boards of health agreed to the contract but they will also continue making independent decisions while at the same time “consider what is the best way to provide the programs considering the need in both counties.”

Blevins said, “The formal contract that Boyle and Garrard have constructed together could serve as a model for other counties to utilize in the future.”

“We will take employees that we currently have, along with funding that is present and figure out the best way to provide the services our communities need. This is opposed to always having two separate programs in two counties that are only a few miles apart.”

“Both health departments have already utilized retirements and layoffs — to minimize staff as possible,” he said. “… I don’t anticipate that all services will be combined, as each county will still retain its own identity and board of health, but we will look for avenues to work together every chance we can.”

Blevins doesn’t currently anticipate having to limit any of the departments’ programs or services. Nor does he think some of the services will be only available at one department or the other, causing clients to travel to another county for what they need.

“We definitely never want to have transportation be an issue for anyone needing services. With that goal in mind, we will work to not have that happen.”

However, further decreases in funding may dictate otherwise, Blevins said.

Right now, Blevins is getting to know the Garrard County Health Department better. “I definitely want to be respectful of the longtime relationship the Garrard County Health Department has with the community and decide how to continue the success.”

He admitted running two health departments would be a challenge, but said he is “very fortunate that both health departments have long-term staff who are very good at what they do, have a passion for public health and understand how programs operate.”

“I want to assure the citizens of both counties that we will continue to offer public health services as aggressively as we have in the past,” he said.

“The funding that each health department has is specific for that county, unless designated by the Department for Public Health,” Blevins said. “As DPH allows funding to be utilized as needed in both counties, this will help us determine how to build the programs to support the community’s needs. It will be important that we ensure each county has full accountability of all funding spent.”