The Oregon Health Authority is preparing to take over some public health services in Wallowa County after the county’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday, April 16, to transfer its local public health authority to the state agency.

“Because of shrinking funds, the board made the difficult decision to close the public health department as of May 1,” said county commissioner Susan Roberts. “We have been working closely with Jodi Beck, current local public health administrator, OHA and other partners to ensure a smooth transition.”

By law, the county was required to pass an ordinance before the transfer could happen. While legally the transfer does not occur until Oct. 13, 2018, Wallowa County will no longer have a local public health administrator as of May 1. That means OHA will assume responsibility for continuing services it is statutorily obligated to provide to protect the public’s health, including:

  • Monitoring communicable diseases and controlling outbreaks
  • Enforcing the Indoor Clean Air Act
  • Ensuring access to safe drinking water
  • Ensuring access to WIC services
  • Licensing and inspecting food, pool and lodging facilities

Vital records will move to the Wallowa County Clerk’s office as of May 1. Immunization and reproductive health services will continue to be provided through some local health clinics.

All other governmental public health services will end in Wallowa County. Over the next six months, the OHA Public Health Division will evaluate which of these services the division will take on.

“We recognize the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners has the legal ability to transfer local public health authority to OHA,” said Lillian Shirley, director of the OHA Public Health Division. “We will work closely with the board and its staff during the shift from local to state provision of public health services.

“We will thoroughly examine and address any potential gaps in public health services that have been provided in the county, although just what those gaps in services are has yet to be determined,” Shirley said.

In response to the county’s decision, the Public Health Division has established an incident management team with staff representatives from across the division to plan for and communicate about the transition, including sharing information with local partners, clients and the general public.