COLUMBUS, Ohio — Smaller health departments across the state of Ohio may have to close up shop and merge with their county's health department if Ohio Senate House Bill 110 is passed. The bill is comprised of provisions to the state's two-year budget.
Under the bill, health departments, which serve cities with less than 50,000 residents, will be required to complete a study, evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of its services to see if it should be consolidated with its county health department - versus operating on its own. Up to $6 million would be earmarked for these studies.
The bill says if the study concludes that a merger is advisable, the smaller health department must enter into a contract with the district advisory council for the general health district.
Nearly 20 health departments across the state would be impacted if the provision goes into the state budget plan.
In Northeast Ohio that includes cities like Alliance, Ashtabula, Conneaut, Kent, Massillon, New Philadelphia, Shelby and Salem.
The Mayor of Alliance spoke out about the bill and its provisions at last week's council meeting via Zoom.
"I'm trying to figure out the impedes for this," he said. "So there's really no understanding on my part as to how this is going to make things more efficient or effective."
He said the Alliance Health Department serves more than just the residents who live in the city of Alliance and if they were to merge with their county's department, it's going to force residents to travel several miles for services.
"So that's three times further one way for someone to get on a bus and get shots or whatever services they need, so I think there's some real impedes here for the Senate to review this."
The Ashtabula City Health Department also said they were against a merger.
In a statement, the department told News 5, "The inequity of singling out small city health departments for this efficiency study is grossly unfair. Should not all health departments, local and state be held to the same standards? Our department opposes legislation that would force a merger due to the size of our community not the needs. Ashtabula City is the largest city in Ohio’s geographic largest county, Ashtabula. Our department serves a population of 19, 000 which represents 20% of our county’s total population. Access to care and transportation are just a few of the issues that face our city residents and disproportionately effects our large number of residents living at or below the poverty line that regularly utilize the services provided by our local health department. Centralizing public health services twenty miles away at our county health department would serve only to widen this disparity."
In the next few weeks, lawmakers in the Ohio Senate will be reviewing changes to the state budget. The final two-year budget must be approved by June 30.