Douglas County is moving forward on finding a new way to deliver public health services to its residents by 2023 but has not determined a specific path forward or how much it will cost.
In a Jan. 25 news release that was approved by county commissioners, a spokesperson said this desire for change was brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed to the board of Douglas County commissioners that the time to evaluate and seek a different solution to public health services of a county this size has come,” the news release states. “Commissioners are quick to note that what the service delivery model will look like and cost is in the beginning phase of being discovered.”
After Tri-County Health Department put a mask mandate in place in July 2020, the board of Douglas County commissioners voted to leave the health department the following year. Commissioners later rescinded that notice and said the county would stay with the agency until January 2023.
The county's Jan. 25 statement followed an announcement at a Town of Castle Rock meeting six days earlier. At the meeting, the town’s staff said they had learned that the county “will proceed” with a separate Douglas County health department by January 2023, said David Corliss, town manager.
“It’s my understanding that the county, in 2022, next year, will budget funds to get that all started,” Corliss said at the meeting. “They obviously will have to hire an executive director, establish a health board and have additional staff that's going to be then involved in all the machinery in a health department.”
That’s not necessarily what the county’s new public health services will look like, however, according to the spokesperson for the county. One option that has been discussed is the county not formally being a part of Tri-County but still contracting services from the department, said Jennifer Ludwig, deputy director of the agency.
"It is something that has been discussed and I think it could be a possibility," she said. "That isn't typically how we do business. It would be a big change."
At the Jan. 19 meeting, Castle Rock town councilmembers discussed their interest in forming a municipal health deparment but ultimately decided it would not be cost effective. The council voted instead to write a letter requesting that the county expedite its withdrawal from Tri-County and asking for the town to have a role in the governance of a new county health department.
The county is working with Tri-County — which also serves Adams and Arapahoe counties —on the process of finding new health services, Ludwig said.
“We’ve always understood that we would be exploring this in 2021,” Ludwig said. “I am anticipating that it will take a good part of this year to do a comprehensive analysis in three counties.”
She believes a plan will begin to be implemented in 2022. So far, Tri-County has had “a couple of meetings” with staff representatives of each of the three counties they represent.
“We haven’t even mapped out a plan or process,” she said.
There is not a timeline in place for when the county will complete its analysis and decide what course of action it will take, according to the county spokesperson.
Ludwig said it appears that the commissioners’ interest in pursuing a new delivery of services continues to be a desire for local control.
“I still believe that’s the biggest reason,” she said. "We’re not taking it personally.”