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Published: 8/29/2011

Lucas County Health Dept. ponders more fees, budget cuts

Bars with smoking risk liquor licenses

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After laying off five employees in recent weeks, including one public health nurse who was recalled to fill a vacancy in another department, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department is continuing to assess ways to save money and increase revenues as a more than $633,000 shortfall looms for next year.

Board members plan a retreat Sept. 17 to discuss options, including more layoffs and cuts to services, to be presented by the department’s administration.

The $633,000 shortfall will be even larger if Lucas County’s budget commission does not approve a 5 percent increase for the health department, which for this year had its budget cut 8 percent, or about $260,000.

Health department expenses next year are expected to be more than $7.2 million. Besides having four employees on layoff since last month, the board is not filling two vacant positions for sanitarians, who do restaurant inspections and other work.

“We’re already feeling the pain and bleeding,” Dr. Christopher Sherman, a board member and finance committee chairman, said at a meeting Thursday. “This $633,000 is going to feel like a mortal wound, and that’s if we get a 5 percent increase in our budget.”

One money-losing area is the pharmacy, the only one left in a health department statewide.

Keeping a pharmacy, however, is an important service, Dr. Donna Woodson, board president, said.

“We may have a [sexually transmitted diseases] clinic,” she said. “But if these people can’t get their medications, then STDs keep rolling on.”

One proposal for the pharmacy may be to start charging people with health coverage co-payments for prescriptions, which could raise $7,000 to $10,000 a year, said Dr. David Grossman, health commissioner.

Bryan Bishop, a pharmacy student at the University of Toledo interning at the health department, was able to work with Dr. Grossman and others to change some of the medications the department’s pharmacy carries.

That will save $13,000 a year, some of which will be used to stock some more medications, and reworking antibiotic offerings could save another few thousand dollars a year, Dr. Grossman said.

Another area where the department expects to increase revenues is by starting to bill for administrative services whenever an employee assists a client in applying for Medicaid. Wood County gets about $50,000 a year, while larger counties such as Cuyahoga get about $200,000, said Joanne Melamed, chief financial officer.

In other business, board members learned the health department is working with the state attorney general to prohibit businesses with huge smoking ban fines — such as Rip Cord and Mayfly Tavern, both in Toledo — from renewing liquor licenses in June.

A Cincinnati-area bar with numerous outstanding smoking ban fines had its liquor license renewal denied last month, a test case for state regulators.

“If we can actually do this, that’s going to work,” said Alan Ruffell, the department’s environmental health director. “That’s going to stop the mom-and-pop bars from smoking.”

Dr. Grossman also said he has treated a woman in her 50s in his private practice who may have had West Nile virus, which would be the county’s first case of the mosquito-borne illness this year. Confirmation testing has not been completed, and the woman had flulike symptoms and recovered, he said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.



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