Citing ever-increasing financial pressures and a plan to restructure, the Washington County Health Board voted this week that it would not renew health commissioner Kathleen Meckstroth's contract.
More cutbacks could follow, according to the board.
"The health department has had financial difficulties for some time, and we simply cannot afford to continue to do many of the things we're doing. There has to be some changes, we have to cut back," health board president Richard Daniell said Thursday.
He added that after the first of the year there will probably be some reorganization at the health department, due to dwindling state and federal funding support.
"At this point this is the only cut that's immediate," Daniell said. "And I don't know if other cuts are coming."
Meckstroth has been health commissioner for 14 years. Her contract officially expires Dec. 31, and Daniell said she declined the board's offer to serve out a two-week notice and decided to leave immediately.
If you go
- Washington County Board of Health meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the conference room of the health department, 342 Muskingum Drive, Marietta. Meetings are open to the public.
- More information is available at http://www.washco-ohhealth.org/
The vote on her contract was Tuesday.
"I understand she's retiring," Daniell said. "But this was not done with any malicious forethought. It was just a necessary action."
A call to Meckstroth's residence was not returned Thursday.
Daniell said the department just received a clean report on its financial bookkeeping from a two-year audit by the state auditor's office.
"Our only problem is that we're short on funding sources, and we're just going to have to make some changes," he said. "And we have had some indication of further cuts in state funding in the coming year."
Daniell also noted that one of the department's traditional revenue sources, administering annual flu shots, has also decreased because the shots are now available at nearly any local drug store and some pharmacies are charging customers a price that's lower than the health department's cost.
He said health department expenses continue to rise, noting the cost of employee health insurance has been increasing at a rate of about 7 percent a year.
"We've been running too close for too long," Daniell said. "Our funding has been reduced in each of the last three years in a row, and we don't see that coming back. But we're trying to stay viable and continue to provide services for the community."
He said operation of the Southeastern Ohio Dental Clinic would continue.
Daniell said the position of health commissioner held by Meckstroth would not exist as such, but the board may consider hiring an administrator to head the department instead.
Washington County Commissioner Cora Marshall said the commissioners had received no official word from the health board about Meckstroth's retirement as of Thursday afternoon, but she added that the county is not a funding source for the health department.
She said members of the health board are appointed by the Washington County Township Trustees Association.
Trustees association president Gene Morris said once the health board members are approved, the trustees have little contact with them. He said the trustees group does provide some funding for the health board, although he did not know the exact amount.
"We do help them some financially, but we pretty much let the board operate on its own," Morris said. "They send us an annual report, and we were aware the department has been facing some financial problems."
He said the trustees association had not been told that Meckstroth's contract would not be renewed.
Daniell said the health board expects to begin ironing out details for reorganization of the health department during its next meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 in the conference room at the health department, 342 Muskingum Drive in Marietta.