Proposal seeks to dissolve Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department partnership
A new proposal presented by Pierce County Councilmember Pam Roach seeks to dissolve the city-county partnership the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has operated under since 1972.
The legislation would effectively terminate the 38-year-old interlocal agreement Tacoma has with the county health department, a move that would cut off $1.1 million in funding provided by the city, while leading to a sizable reworking of how the department operates.
Under Roach’s proposal, the department’s health director would no longer report to its eight-member board of elected officials, and instead report directly to the county executive and council. And while Roach argues that the goal is for “more balanced oversight,” local health officials warn of serious consequences — especially in the near-term — should the measure move forward.
“The Health Department needs to focus all of its attention on ending COVID-19 in Pierce County,” Pierce County Director of Health Dr. Anthony Chen said in a written release. “Efforts that divide our attention from this critical public health response are an unfortunate distraction.”
“Our public health system was already in deep decline with twenty years of funding cuts,” Jefferson Ketchel, Washington State Public Health Association executive director, told the Tacoma News Tribune. “The sharp increase of politically driven rhetoric and schemes, such as this proposal, along with the resource gaps puts everyone’s health at greater risk.”
Roach has countered that assertion, claiming that concerns over the resolution’s possible effect on pandemic response efforts have “no bearing.”
“This is something that should have been done a long time ago,” she said. “Every person in Pierce County should have an equal ability to have their opinions on the board on health.”
Fellow Pierce County Councilmember Derek Young was more candid with his thoughts on the legislation, calling it “without question, the stupidest idea” he’s seen in 22 years serving in local government.
“Lots of things keep me up at night these days. This is the latest,” Young said on Twitter.
The measure appears to have the support of the current 4-3 Republican majority of the council, set to cast their votes on the proposal on Dec. 15. That will shift at the start of the new year, though, with voters flipping the county council in Democrats’ favor as a result of November’s election.