Thursday, May 8th, 2014
By Shelley Grieshop
County health official leaving
Officials: Major reorganization possible
  CELINA - The local health department may face a major reorganization following the announcement Wednesday of administrator Dale Palmer's retirement.
Palmer, 60, who was hired for the top position in April 2008, told the Mercer County-Celina City Board of Health during a special meeting that he will retire July 3.
In an email to staff, obtained by the newspaper, he said the agency needs someone "who will assist our agency in navigating through the present and future emerging challenges."
"I felt that this agency needed a new leader who could demonstrate the ongoing necessity to collaborate with our staff, board of health and our community public health system partners," he wrote.
Palmer told the newspaper family health issues are another reason for his departure.
He and health commissioner Dr. Philip Masser this morning said the board is contemplating a staff reorganization, including the possibility of phasing out the full-time administrator job and creating a full-time health commissioner position. Outsourcing some services such as immunization billing also is an option being discussed, Palmer said.
No action was taken following executive session Wednesday. Masser said he will meet with the staff for a "brainstorming session" on Tuesday - one day before the board's regular meeting at noon in the Central Services Building in Celina.
Masser, a local family physician, has held the post of health commissioner on a part-time basis since January 1990. He has not publicly stated if he would take the job as a full-time employee.
Neighboring Auglaize County - with a population of nearly 46,000 residents, about 5,000 more than Mercer County - has a full-time health commissioner, Charlotte Parsons, and a part-time medical director, Dr. Juan Torres.
Masser said he doesn't yet know what type of restructuring will occur, but he noted it will be based on new and more rigorous state accreditation standards.
"There's just so many things coming at us right now from the local and state level and beyond, and I worry about getting it all done," he said. "Things are much more complicated than they were when I took this position 20 years ago."
Local health departments now must complete five-year accreditation standards that involve working with area health partners to ensure adequate services are offered to residents. One of those steps - the community health assessment - recently was completed.
Another change that continues to burden the staff's resources is the implementation of private insurance billing for immunizations. Palmer this morning said the agency is being forced to function more like a business than a public health facility.
The health department this year came under fire fiscally after a state audit questioned $271,132 in grant funds the agency received several years ago mainly to battle the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. No criminal action was alleged; the state cited "mishandling of funds" as the cause.
The agency likely will be required to pay back about $200,000 after the appeals process is complete. Carryover funds of nearly $400,000 this year will be tapped, officials have said.
Masser said the upcoming changes have little to do with the audit.
"Dale's leaving and the new model we're discussing is not directly involved (with the state audit findings)," he said.
Masser said Palmer has done a great job helping the agency through rough times.
"I hate to see Dale moving on. I have a lot of respect for him," he said.
Palmer's current annual salary is $57,500 plus benefits. When he took the job with the health department he had more than 29 years of extensive administrative, operational and support emergency management experience. He had served in several leadership positions at fire and emergency management departments in several states, and served as director of emergency response in Allen County.
Palmer said he will make himself available to the board and staff to ensure a smooth transition.
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