Most Douglas County commissioners say they plan to expedite process of leaving Tri-County Health

'It’s disheartening when you can’t trust another government agency,' one said

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The day after Tri-County Health Department’s Board of Health voted to no longer allow the counties it serves to opt out of public health orders, two of the three Douglas County commissioners told Colorado Community Media Tuesday they planned to vote in favor of expediting the process of leaving the agency.

Though commissioners haven’t yet met to discuss next steps, Commissioners Lora Thomas and George Teal both confirmed their individual plans to Colorado Community Media.

“I am hoping that we can have a professional and respectful conversation with Tri-County health that we can agree on an expedited timeline for Douglas County to develop its own public health department,” Thomas said.

The full board planned to meet in a virtual work session to discuss the matter Wednesday at noon.

In a text message, Teal mentioned similar plans.

“I will be working to form a County Board of Public Health as soon as possible as well as beginning the process to form an independent Douglas County Department of Health,” he said.

Commissioner Abe Laydon spoke vaguely about the possibility but did not confirm a specific vote for the Wednesday meeting.

“My bottom line is I want to provide assurances to moms and dads and to grandmas and grandpas that their rights to make health care decisions for themselves and their families will not be infringed upon or renegotiated,” Laydon said.

Laydon said he thinks it's important for the county's public health services to have no gaps. 

When asked if he would support an expedited timeline for leaving Tri-County, Laydon said “I think we will have a plan in place to assume local control for the delivery of our public health services and that will include public health orders.”

He also said that he’s hearing from citizens that they want “consistency in public health orders that reflect our local values” and that he is “committing to ensuring that occurs.”

Tri-County Health serves Douglas, Arapahoe amd Adams counties. Its enforcement of school mask-wearing rules as a COVID-19 safety measure has met with opposition from Douglas County commissioners, who have often been critical of the agency since the pandemic began.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Tri-County said the agency would provide Douglas County any support possible if the commissioners do choose to transition.

"We are sorry that our 50+ year history of serving Douglas County residents may be coming to an end and that the separation has been catalyzed at such a divisive moment," according to the statement. "If the county does choose to make a change, we will continue to serve the residents to the best of our ability as long as we remain their Public Health Department and will provide whatever support we practically can in the transition."

In July 2020, Douglas County commissioners announced they would eventually leave Tri-County, citing a wish for more local control over public health orders. But last November, the commissioners walked the decision back and agreed to stay with the health department until at least 2023. As part of that agreement, however, the commissioners would be able to opt out of any public health order.

After Tri-County enacted a mask mandate for students ages 2 to 11 and any staff that work with them last week, Douglas and Adams counties’ commissioners both voted to opt out of the order. Arapahoe County commissioners were also planning to discuss a possible opt out when the health board voted Aug. 30 to no longer allow opt outs.

That motion to end opt outs was approved with a 5-3 vote with the two present Douglas County board of health representatives and an Arapahoe County representative voting no. After rescinding the opt out option, the health board approved a mask mandate for anyone over the age of 2 in schools and childcare settings.

Immediately following the decision from Tri-County, the Douglas County board released a statement saying it planned to continue its work in identifying “a public health agency framework that will honor the needs of Douglas County citizens,” according to the statement emailed through a spokesperson.

“The Tri-County Health Department board’s decision to rescind the opt-out provision from their policy during their meeting this afternoon unilaterally reversed our negotiated Nov. 10, 2020 agreement,” according to the statement.

Thomas said that while she’s known for “a long time” that she believed the county should form its own health department, the recent action by Tri-County made it “very obvious” that the timeline needed to be expedited.

“It’s disheartening when you can’t trust another government agency,” she said.

Members of the public interested in joining the Sept. 1 work session can do so by visiting www.douglas.co.us/commissioners-weekly-schedule and selecting the link under  the Sept. 1 meeting titled “Tri-County Health Order Discussion.”

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