This week, the Arapahoe Board of County Commissioners (Board) hosted a study session to view preliminary information about the future of the Tri-County Health Department and the County’s relationship with the public health agency.
After Douglas County announced its intentions in mid-2020 to leave the 55-year partnership with Tri-County, the Arapahoe commissioners began internal discussions about possible next steps. These deliberations culminated in the hiring of Otowi Group, a public sector consultant, whose officials are compiling a multi-phase study that will lay out the County’s options. This week’s presentation was Otowi’s first chance to update the Board about its findings so far.
Otowi began working on the project this summer by reaching out to area stakeholders, including officials from County school districts, municipalities, chambers of commerce, private industries, and the Tri-County Board of Health. This amounted to about 50 people total in small group discussions. (Otowi still has a number of stakeholder categories to speak with, including nonprofits and other geographic areas of the County, and the group is doing similar outreach in Adams County.)
The presenters told the Board that there are compelling opinions on both sides about why Tri-County should or shouldn’t continue to be our statutorily mandated public health agency, but Otowi said most of the people fall somewhere in the middle. One unanimous concern is over the cost of a new public health agency. One of Tri-County's primary benefits has been its ability to provide sound economies of scale to Arapahoe, Adams, and Douglas that have made their services more affordable to everyone.
School superintendents were the most strongly in favor of Tri-County staying together, and they expressed surprise that anyone was trying to build a public health department in the middle of a pandemic. This group also sees Tri-County, which has about 370 employees, as chronically underfunded and understaffed.
Among the other elements the respondents want to see is more proactive relationship-forming between communities, governments, and the public health agency (as opposed to waiting until the next public health crisis); an assurance that there won’t be a redundancy of services should this region end up with multiple public health departments; and better (or clearer) governance strictures around public health in general.
Otowi will continue compiling feedback from multiple stakeholders in Arapahoe and Adams counties. The consultant’s next Board update is scheduled for Oct. 14.