The mission of the Sedgwick County Health Department is simple: Provide quality public health services and create a healthier county.
Three county commissioners let political views get in the way of the Health Department’s mission when approving the 2018 budget on Aug. 2.
Jim Howell, Michael O’Donnell and Richard Ranzau voted to eliminate a $36,000 community health analyst job that managed the county’s work in the annual Community Health Improvement Plan.
The commissioners said, in effect, that the community’s leader in public health won’t have a say in a collaborative report of local health organizations. The exit from the discussion is an unfortunate mistake. It doesn’t make sense for the county not to be a part of the goals to make its residents healthier.
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The health improvement plan is compiled by the Health Alliance coalition of organizations. The group surveys the community, compiles data and makes recommendations.
Commissioners who voted against funding the job said the report, compiled by the Health Alliance coalition, ventured into political waters when it recommended Medicaid expansion advocacy and making it easier for welfare recipients to receive benefits.
“It’s not really about health,” Ranzau said. “It’s about promoting a political agenda.
“Just spend, spend, spend and everything will be OK.”
Except what looks like political leaning instead points out ways for better health in Sedgwick County. An expansion of KanCare, the Medicaid program in the state, would undoubtedly open health care options for more low-income residents. Same with making it easier to obtain welfare benefits.
Other ideas Ranzau describes as liberal or progressive – more bike paths, more smoke-free places – are just common sense for better health and a more vibrant community.
Instead of killing the job, commissioners should have kept it active and demanded to be heard on the points in which they disagreed. Other health organizations in the county would much rather have a vociferous county in the discussion than no county voice at all.
So the county won’t be a leader in an initiative for a healthier Sedgwick County. It also leaves the nonprofit Health Alliance in a position of monitoring the plan without enough manpower.
The position may not be gone forever. It was cut out of the 2016 county budget but made its way back in last year. After another year away in 2018, maybe polarized thinking can steer clear once the 2019 budget is marked up.
Not everything has to be so political.