New Health Director Takes Methodical Approach

The following story by reporter Anita Savio appeared in the March 28, 2018 edition of the Illinois Valley News.

New Josephine County Public Health Director Michael Weber brings a wealth of background and a strong commitment to ensuring his department continues to serve Josephine County residents in the face of changing community needs.

For instance, health department immunizations have dropped from the neighborhood of 12,000 to 15,000 per year to only 2,000 to 2,500 per year over the past five to fifteen years. The reason for that, he says, is because more people have access to health care and they’re getting their immunizations in other places. That’s attributable in part to the Affordable Care Act (also referred to as Obamacare) and Medicaid expansion. But it’s also because of population growth: As more people move into the area, more health service providers locate here to provide them with care.

Getting back to Weber’s background: A full resume would take up this entire newspaper page. But highlights include: Degrees in clinical technology, hospital administration and emergency services management, plus he is currently finishing up his doctorate in emergency management. Weber has worked in the military; on homeland security for the Department of Public Safety in Utah, including working on the H1N1 swine flu epidemic in 2009; for FEMA in national response planning for events such as catastrophic earthquakes and floods; and he worked for 14 years in Los Angeles with Southern California Edison on emergency preparedness and outreach.

Weber applied for the job with us because he wanted to get back to his specialty of public health and was looking for a better place to raise his kids.

High on his current agenda is drafting and following through on a Request for Proposals (RFP) to provide some health services through outsourcing to other government entities, private for-profit providers or private non-profit providers.

The RFP has a bit of history. It was initiated by the Board of County Commissioners when the previous health director abruptly resigned last year, leaving the health department without adequate management. The commissioners suddenly had to figure out how to manage the department, and their solution was to issue the RFP. Originally, the plan was to issue the RFP and award contracts within a two month time frame.

But when Weber came on board he said, “Let’s slow way down. There’s no way we can do this without ensuring all the services we currently provide will still be provided at least at the same level of quality.  And we have to ensure that this is going to happen without impacting Josephine County residents financially. ”

The public health department manages 16 different programs, grouped under the five headings of Administrative, Environmental Health, Animal Protection and Control, Parent and Child Health, and Clinical Services. A detailed list can be found on the county’s website.

Weber said that the RFP does not obligate the county to make any change in how public health is being provided.

“But I think it’s important to always see how we could be doing things better. It would be great if we get a response from organizations that think about providing care and services in a way we haven’t thought of before, either because they’re able to do it better or because they introduce a thought that may change how we do it.”

Weber added that reproductive health services will not be included in the RFP. And in response to some rumors, clarified that the county has never provided abortions, and has no plans to do so.

The draft RFP will come out for public comment within the month, and once proposals come in, those will also be subject to public hearings and comment. Weber foresees the outcome of the process will be known by the end of the county’s fiscal year, June 30, although that could change if the commissioners feel they need more time to evaluate.

“But I will not support moving forward on something unless I believe it will benefit Josephine County residents,” Weber stressed.