Seven members named to new La Plata County Board of Health – The Durango Herald

The people chosen come from different backgrounds

La Plata County commissioners have appointed seven people to the board of health that will operate the new La Plata County Department of Public Health. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald File)

The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners took the next major step toward establishing its own public health department on Tuesday when it approved two resolutions, one creating a health board and the other naming seven members to that board. Its membership is made up of a range of experts in public health policy, health care, biology and environmental health.

“It’s been a long time since the (San Juan Basin) Board of Health recommended dissolution in April 2022,” Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton said before the vote. “…it’s quite a milestone moment.”

Archuleta and La Plata county commissioners voted in November to disband San Juan Basin Public Health, the department that has served the two counties for 74 years. Tensions had risen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted philosophical differences between the two counties’ constituencies regarding public health services and necessary restrictions.

The new board will serve in an organizational capacity until the dissolution takes effect on 31 December.

The commissioners interviewed 15 of the 31 applicants they received, looking for individuals who brought extensive experience in health, policy and governance, among other factors. Although the terms would be five years going forward, the BoCC shortened the length of the term of initial appointments to establish continuity going forward.

Dr. Cecil Fraley, CEO of Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, will serve a full five-year term.

Douglas McCarthy, president of Issues Research Inc. and interim executive director of the Local First Foundation, will serve a four-year term alongside Avery Perryman Sheldon, a health care policy specialist, who is a speech pathologist, according to his biography on the Durango Running Club website.

Teresa Wright, a registered nurse who holds a master’s degree in public health, will serve a three-year term.

Michael Murphy, a managing principal at consulting firm Durango Health Partners and former interim CEO of Centura Mercy Regional Medical Center, will serve a two-year term; Shere Byrd, professor of biology at Fort Lewis College and member of the SJBPH Board of Health, will serve on the board for two years. She is the only member of the board who will serve concurrently before the dissolution of the SJBPH board.

Wendy Rice, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, will serve on the board for one year.

Byrd, who served on the SJBPH board for 12 years, said her work with the soon-to-be-disbanded department will provide some familiarity and a sense of continuity as the county mounts its own department.

“Having one owner instead of two owners will make it easier for the board and the people who actually provide the services because there are some differences of opinion about the services that each county wanted,” she said.

Byrd said he looks forward to educating the public about public health and highlighting the full potential of the department, which he said is not fully utilized due to conflicts with Archuleta County.

McCarthy said he also looks forward to elevating the role of public health in the community.

“Most of the gains in life expectancy over the last century have come through public health and have been added to by health care, and yet, health care is the bulk of our attention and our money and our spending,” he said. “What I will try to bring is a perspective on how those two areas — health care and public health — have an opportunity to work together for a much greater good and synergistically, which was really highlighted during COVID “

McCarthy and Wright both pointed to a growing trend in the public health field when discussing the job ahead: growing skepticism of fact-based science.

“I think we’ve all learned a lot over the years (about) messaging and the whole concept of listening, really deep listening and trying to come to common ground and appreciate different perspectives,” Wright said. Doing.”

She encouraged La Plata County residents to fill out the Community Health Assessment Survey so that the board would have enough community input to inform other data sources as members seek to develop community health programs.

Wright also highlighted the growing need to include ways to address the climate crisis in public health programs.

“It would be interesting to find that we can be more proactive as opposed to reactive,” she said.

Members will meet on a monthly or biweekly basis over the next year to organize staffing, resources and infrastructure so that La Plata County Public Health is ready to assume responsibility for the county’s public health needs on January 1, 2024.

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