The Person County Board of Commissioners reinstated a nursing position that had been eliminated with the adoption of the 2019-20 fiscal year budget.
Commissioners also approved the unfreezing of two clinic nurse position and a community health technician position. As part of their approval, commissioners want a report to them when the positions are ready to be filled.
The motion, made by Vice Chairman Ray Jeffers, passed 3-2. Commissioners Kyle Puryear and Gordon Powell voted against the motion.
Person County Health Department Director Janet Clayton had requested that a public health nursing director I position be reinstated and a licensed practical nurse and processing assistant III be eliminated. Clayton also requested that all health department positions be unfrozen with the understanding that positions will be filled as needed with the approval of the county manager.
Clayton said the health department is going through a rebuild of its programs and services following a period of a high turnover but that would require the positions to be unfrozen and individuals trained to offer more services which would bring in more money.
Clayton said the department is having to forego $500,000 in grants that it could otherwise receive because it isn’t offering the services needed to receive them.
Jeffers expressed concern that the commissioners would be left out of the loop regarding the rebuild under Clayton’s request.
County Manager Heidi York suggested that the Board of Health and commissioners be brought together and allow herself and Clayton to work together on the day to day operation of the department. York said commissioners would not need to be involved because Clayton already reports to the Board of Health who would be more engaged.
Chairman David Newell Sr. said his biggest concern was that people don’t use the health department.
Newell suggested cross training employees to lower the number of new hires needed.
“We have to have some business logic to this,” Newell said. “It is a business – you are the CEO of about a $3.5 million business and we need to make sure that its run like one. Anything we can do to increase efficiency is something that we have to do.”
Newell said the department has two options to achieve this: cross train and eliminate positions or offer more services to the county.
Puryear made an initial motion to approve Clayton’s request, but commissioners adopted Jeffers’ substitute motion.
Jeffers responded by asking if Puryear had all the information that the commissioners would need to make a decision.
“Do you have the answers?” Jeffers said. “Can you give them to me?”
Jeffers mentioned that the positions at the health department had been frozen to get a better idea of what services needed to be offered by the department. He also wanted to see the numbers regarding how many people are served by the department for its services.
Puryear responded by saying that the commissioners didn’t need to know those answers.
“I have complete confidence in the director of the Health Department,” Puryear said.
“How many people did we see in June?” Jeffers responded.
“I shouldn’t have to know that as a commissioner,” Puryear said.
Clayton said the department is referring patients to Person Family Medical and to Durham County.
According to York, the county’s home health and hospice services were sold last year because those services could make a profit elsewhere, however there is no market for the county’s other services.
York pointed out that the commissioners have to assess how they are serving the community.
“Right now we are encouraging young pregnant mothers to go to Durham to receive care and I don’t think that’s a good thing for our community,” York said. “I don’t feel like we are serving our community well by sending them to downtown Durham.”
York told The Courier-Times that she would like to see the health department become a high-quality, one-stop shop for its patients and members of the community.
York said that going back to the previous position will only delay the hiring and rebuild process.
Clayton said priorities are at heart the problem.
“It is a question of priorities: do you want to sub out services and require patients to go outside the county or not receive the care or end up at the emergency room for STDs or other things that could’ve been treated at the health department?” Clayton said.