Should Mecklenburg County privatize its health department? - | WBTV Charlotte

Should Mecklenburg County privatize its health department?

(Dedrick Russell | WBTV) (Dedrick Russell | WBTV)

The Mecklenburg County Commissioners Audit Committee is ready to tackle problems at the county's health department. They met Tuesday to discuss reports that detail issues the department has been facing for quite some time.

Navigant and Praxis Partners for Health are consulting firms the county hired. The county paid more than $1.5 million for their services. The firms interviewed several employees and reviewed the department's practices. The outcome was troubling.

"Staff are not held accountable for their inappropriate behavior or actions by leadership," the report states. "This inaction provides staff with a negative feedback loop that 'bad behavior' is tolerated and there are no consequences for their actions."

County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour believes this report shows it's time for a change. He is now pushing his colleagues to outsource or privatize the county's health department.

"I think it needs to go back to Carolinas Healthcare System, which is who was providing those services up until 2013," he said. "And then we take it over, and then we have all this mess going on."

The report also states, "Some managers do not exhibit/model appropriate behaviors for their staff. Staff, also, model these inappropriate behaviors, leading to a bad culture and an inhospitable work environment for staff."

The county commissioner believes if there is an agency that can perform better that the county, then the county should pursue that option.

"I think there are medical organizations in town that have the experience, the knowledge. They have done this for decades. They do it day in and day out," Ridenhour said. "They can do it as well or not better than we can do it."

Other commissioners are concerned outsourcing could mean those outside agencies making money off the backs of poor people. 

"We got to think beyond making money," Commissioner Vilma Leake said. "We got to think beyond ourselves. We got to think about the whole community."

Other commissioners mentioned on Tuesday the talk of outsourcing is beginning to worry the health department's nearly 800 employees.

"Some of them expressed concerns about the level of stress and difficulty they have had during this process," Commissioner George Dunlap said. "So I ask my colleagues be sensitive to that as they discuss what happens next."

Some recommendations include having some of the health department employees reapply for their jobs, and hiring two more Assistant Health Directors to handle the workload. The report also outlines how much it could cost to bring the department up to date as it relates to its medical record system and restructuring other systems. The upgrades could be in the millions.

"Next thing you know the price tag keeps going up," Ridenhour said. "And it's like maybe we just get out of the business altogether and let CHS, Novant Health, perform those clinical services and let our health department focus on health inspections, food inspections, pool inspections, and things like that - health policies."

County Manager Dena Diorio says she will come back with a plan on August 2. She believes it will take about a year to implement the changes county commissioners decide.

Ridenhour admits he doesn't have the votes to privatize the Health Department but says he is working on it.

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