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Position brought in-house, prompted by statewide public health policy changes

Columbia County is taking the next steps toward fulfilling its new role as the county's public health authority with the creation of a health promotion specialist position.

The health promotion specialist will work on tobacco, drug and alcohol education and prevention. Until now, that work has been done by Columbia Health Services staff with funding from the Tobacco Prevention and Education and the Alcohol and

Drug Prevention and Education programs.

Columbia Health Services, formerly the Public Health Foundation of Columbia County, was the public health authority for the county until the state's Public Health Modernization initiative changed guidelines.

The state recently restructured the way it distributes funding for the tobacco prevention program, requiring local health authorities to select a tier. For tier two, health programs must advance tobacco retail licensing, expand the Indoor Clean Air Act, or develop tobacco-free government properties.

At a public meeting on Wednesday, commissioners voted to allow Columbia County Public Health Director Michael Paul to apply for tier one funding, although Commissioner Alex Tardif advocated for tier two and the development of a tobacco-free campus for the county.

As the county takes over funding and responsibilities for the tobacco, alcohol and drug prevention and education programs, Columbia Health Services will likely lose positions those programs currently fund.

Columbia Health Services currently has two staff members working on alcohol, drug and tobacco prevention work. In the county, only one staff member will take on those responsibilities.

State funds "would support the health promotion person to work half time on the alcohol and drug prevention and half time on the tobacco prevention," Paul explained at the Aug. 28 meeting.

The changes are a continuation of discussions with Columbia Health Services that have put the organization, county and state at odds.

The Public Health Modernization initiative of the Oregon Health Authority has placed greater responsibility for public health in the hands of local governments, requiring that county officials more directly manage public health programs instead of contracting the programs out to nonprofits like Columbia Health Services.

Columbia Health Services staff and board "have communicated with us that they would just as soon have us leave our hands of it" Heimuller said of the tobacco, alcohol and drug prevention programs. But, Heimuller continued, OHA's mandate to the county requires the commissioners "take aggressive action in the oversight of this stuff."

"I know that there probably will be a bit of disappointment on their side on that, but... We hope that they will keep some of that focus," Heimuller said of CHS. "The last thing we want to do is not be reaching their clients and others that could benefit from this information."

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