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Officials announce citizen task force to examine Health Department

Commission will include citizens with medical, legal, and education expertise

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    Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak speaks as fellow commissioners Carol Contrada, left, and Pete Gerken, along with Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson listen during a press conference at the Lucas County Health Department, today.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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    County commissioners, Toledo mayor address media in front of Health Department to announce citizen task force to examine department policies.

    THE BLADE/LAUREN LINDSTROM
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    Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson speaks during a press conference at the Lucas County Health Department today.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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Lucas County and Toledo officials today announced the creation of a citizen task force to examine the operations of the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said the commission will include citizens with medical, legal, and educational expertise to make recommendations to improve the department. The task force has the support of Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and all three commissioners, Ms. Skeldon Wozniak said.

“It's obvious how critical agency is to the vitality of a thriving community,” she said, adding that she saw this as an opportunity for improvement. “That will ultimately make them a better health department.”

Among the concerns, she said, is the handling of lead-related issues, financial solvency of the department, and human resources. Officials formally announced the commission at a 3:30 p.m. news conference today.

Their first meeting will be June 7.

On the task force will be: Rob Salem of the University of Toledo College of Law; Jan Ruma, executive director of Toledo/Lucas County CareNet and vice president of the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio, Dr. Riaz Chaudhary, president of the Oregon Clinic; Kevin West, senior director of faculty labor relations and academic inclusion officer at UT; Toledo attorney Sarah Skow, and Catherine Hernandez, of the Toledo Federation of Teachers.

Ms. Hernandez is the wife of Toledo City Council President Steve Steel. One more task force member will be chosen by Andy Glenn, president of the District Advisory Council, which represents municipalities that pay into the department.

Mr. Glenn, who is also Springfield Township trustee, said he feels it is important for an independent look at the financial state of the department, particularly the clinics it runs that have been consistently losing money for months.

The DAC approved a 3 percent increase in funding at its annual meeting in March, amounting to about $97,000 more from the county, cities, townships, and villages in 2018. He said the financial state of the department should be a top priority for the task force.

Similar task forces have been created to examine the workings of the Toledo Zoo, Lucas County Canine Care and Control, and the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County, Ms. Skeldon Wozniak said. She said the groups have resulted in positive change at each agency.

Blade reports last month found that the health department failed to check up on more than a dozen homes in Toledo that had orders to vacate due to untreated lead hazards and many families continued to live in them. Since then, the department has announced updated policy and procedures to better enforce such vacate orders. Three property owners are now facing first-degree misdemeanor charges for allowing tenants to stay after vacate orders were given.

Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski, reached today by phone while out of town with his family, said he was “excited” to work with the newly-formed group.

“This falls right in line with what this community needs to be better in public health. I have all the faith in the world in the community,” he said. “The plan here to have the task force and the department work together to form a stronger more cohesive public health [system] for Lucas County.”

Ms. Skeldon Wozniak also said she was concerned about vacancies on the department’s board of health, which has representatives from Lucas County, Toledo, and the cities, villages, and townships in the county.

Three of the four spots representing the villages and townships are currently vacant, Mr. Glenn said. Appointments for the vacancies were supposed to happen at the March meeting, but no vote was taken because some attendees said they didn’t have enough information about the candidates. A scheduled May 3 meeting to appoint board members was canceled and has not been rescheduled.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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