Citizens For A Better Norwood

Friday, August 08, 2008

Keith Moore’s perspective on the Norwood Health Dept.

We are pleased to present a very timely guest blog Ward 1 Councilperson Keith Moore asked us to publish. To our knowledge, Mr. Moore is the first council member to make public remarks about the future of the Norwood Health Department (see 7/31 and 8/1 blogs below). He is definitely the first to weigh in on the topic here, and we thank him for sharing his thoughts and questions with us:

There are going to be changes at the Health Department — whether Council does anything or not.

Donna Laake is retiring. It won’t be the same. In fact, I’ve already been asked if we could waive the requirement that the new Health Commissioner live in Norwood. That strikes me as a big change right there.

So this seems to me like a good time to re-evaluate what services the people of Norwood are receiving from the Health Department and what other approaches we can take.

In fact, I think it’s our job to take a hard look. Maybe we can find ways to save money that we can put towards Burwood or Millcrest Park or into the streets, or maybe some service we don’t offer now.

Nobody in their right mind wants to eliminate the services the Health Department provides. If anything, I think we’d all like to see more of some of them.

But I, for one, have some questions about where to go from here. Some of them are:

1. What services are we paying for twice? And by that I mean that our taxes already support the county health services. What are we duplicating, and what are we getting more of because we provide it locally? And are there services or programs we are losing out on because the County offers them and we don’t?

A few years ago, we asked exactly those questions about the Building Department and 911. What we discovered is that we would have less service and not save any money. Will that be the case for the Health Department? I don’t know.

2. Does it make any sense to divide code enforcement authority between the Health and Building Departments? Would it be better to have the same number of people doing inspections and citations, but have them all in the same department? Would we have better coordination? Why not have inspectors that cite an owner for both garbage and a rotting porch; for both high grass and 8 people in a single apartment?

3. How many Health Department services come from the Health Department because Donna just volunteers to be responsible for things? That’s really a two-part question:

A. How many of those services be provided by others in Norwood? Can the schools sell the head lice shampoo and offer cholesterol testing for their employees? Can Public Works loan out the HEPA? Can the Clerk of Council hand out yard waste bags?

B. How much on the list here (which I’m glad you posted, because nobody sent me a list with a comparison to the county), will be a part of a new Health Commissioner’s job description? Will a new Health Commissioner be installing car seats or watering planters or working on county disaster plan development of being a liaison for the Tree Board? Which I think is even more of an issue if they don’t live here.

4. How much can we contract out at low cost, like TB tests at the Salvation Army or swimming pool testing?

So that’s what this is all about – answering those questions. There are others, but I think these are the big ones.

I have always thought having the Health Department was very important. I can’t remember the number of debates I had during our budget crisis with people who told me that it was a luxury we just couldn’t afford, that there were more bigger priorities.

Things are going to be changes at the Health Department, regardless of whether Council does anything. So let’s gather some information and then decide what we want those changes to be.

Keith Moore
Ward One