WENATCHEE — Gov. Jay Inslee has signed legislation that will rebalance local health boards across the state by adding health experts and minorities.
House Bill 1152, signed Monday, means big changes are ahead for the Chelan-Douglas Health District board.
All six individuals on the Chelan-Douglas Health District board of health are now elected officials. If the number of elected officials stays the same, six more non-elected officials would be added to the board — two from these categories:
- Health care providers, including practicing doctors, dentists, nurses, epidemiologists
- Consumers of public health who have faced significant health inequities. This category cannot include elected officials or have any financial interest in any health agency.
- Community stakeholders like community nonprofits working with underrepresented communities and the business community
Only one kind of background or position can be represented among the group of non-elected board members, according to the bill. Non-elected board members are all approved by county commissioners.
Decisions related to permits, licensing, and application fees are still only handled by the city and county elected officials on the board.
The legislation provides a chance to improve the overall service of the health department, said Dan Sutton, Douglas County commissioner and health board chair.
“I think there’s some wonderful opportunities to include segments of our communities who have been overlooked or just weren’t a part of the process,” said Sutton. “We’ve got a lot of different facets in our community that make up a whole, and I am encouraged by the fact that we have an opportunity to really be inclusive.”
Time will only tell how successful this bill is, but Sutton said he does not see anything negative with being more inclusive on the board.
Large boards are more cumbersome and make it harder to make good, quick decisions, Sutton said. So, changes to the size of the board to make it smaller are being considered, among other options, he said.
Tony Gonzalez, a Wenatchee lawyer and supporter of the bill, said it was born out of the pandemic and the lawsuits challenging the governor’s pandemic shutdown orders.
“[The community] saw the board of health really politicize the COVID issue,” Gonzalez said. “Things needed to change. [This] is a positive step in the right direction to add community voices and medical experts on the board. It’s not just adding an advisory group who can give recommendations. This is giving community voices and medical experts actual authority in some of the decision-making going forward.”
Gonzalez said his stance on House Bill 1152 is his own and does not represent the position of his employer, Columbia Legal Services. Sutton was involved in one of the lawsuits suing the governor to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency last year, one of three health board members suing the governor.
Gonzalez also said that the real work starts now in identifying who or what community groups are going to best represent the area.
The bill also changes health efforts at the state level.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues for more than a year, resources and staff in the state Department of Health and in health districts across the state have been stretched thin.
The opening section of the newly-signed law says that everyone in the state, regardless of where they live or the community they belong to, should be able to rely on public health.
To create a public health system capable of providing a standard level of service for everyone, changes need to be made, according to the bill.
The bill will also create a public health advisory board that would advise and develop goals for the state Department of Health. This board would also evaluate the state’s emergency response to COVID-19 to provide recommendations for any future responses.
The public health advisory board will consist of governor-appointed representatives from a range of organizations — the governor’s office, the state board of health, representatives from tribal government, business organizations, representatives from four different Washington regions, among others.
Also, if there is a federally recognized Indian tribe or an organization serving American Indian and Alaska Native people within a health district, the board of health must include a tribal representative selected by the American Indian health commission on the board, according to the bill.
The state board of health will be create rules for the appointment process of local health board members with in a year.
The new requirements for boards of health takes effect July 1, 2022. Find the full version of the bill here: wwrld.us/1152.