New plan would merge Snohomish Health District with county

The COVID-19 pandemic proved the integration would improve public health responses, officials say.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

EVERETT — County Executive Dave Somers has a plan to bring the Snohomish Health District and all its employees under the county government by next year.

Lacey Harper, an executive director in Somers’ office, made the pitch to the County Council last week in a presentation titled “Strengthening public health in Snohomish County.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the county and the health district have worked closely, almost as one, showing what it would be like if the two were integrated, Harper said. Joining the two would simply “make formal what has been informal over the last two years,” according to a memo sent to council members.

The idea to fold public health into the county government, “like most large counties in our state,” has been mulled for at least a decade now, Harper said. She argued having one entity would cut through bureaucratic red tape, streamline permitting, create more funding opportunities and prevent future conflicts.

During the pandemic, she said, the dual authorities of the county and the health district could have been “a catastrophic barrier to our success.” It was a matter of luck that the various personalities at the two governments got along.

“We had the right folks at the right places at the right time,” she said, “and so we avoided having serious conflict between our two organizations.”

That wasn’t the case in other jurisdictions across the country, though, she said.

Created in 1959, the Snohomish Health District now employs 135 full- and part-time staff. The county executive has “committed to safeguarding all of our health district staff and county staff if you approve this integration,” Harper told council members. The new public health department would still have its own director and “rely on the talents of a health officer,” she said.

There would be a new board to advise the department. The current one is composed of 15 elected officials from across the county, split into five districts. But new changes to state law dictate elected officials can’t make up the majority of positions on a board of health. Non-elected positions would include health experts, consumers of health care and other community stakeholders, like tribal members.

There would be “minor disruptions” during the transition, Harper acknowledged, but ultimately the new county department should be better funded and be better poised for long-term planning.

No council members signaled opposition to the proposal. Nate Nehring and Stephanie Wright expressed support. Council Chair Megan Dunn noted the potential risk to “alienate our cities” and asked whether the health district’s foundation could still operate.

Harper said the foundation shouldn’t be affected. Cities, tribes and other stakeholders would be consulted throughout the process, she said.

The Snohomish Health District’s board has a special meeting scheduled at 3 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the idea. A proposed resolution attached the agenda notes how the two governments have collaborated in the past, including during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, the aftermath of the 2014 Oso mudslide, the opioid epidemic and, most recently, the years-long response to COVID-19.

The County Council will consider approving the proposal at its June 8 meeting. If approved, the county could have a new public health department by Jan. 1.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

FILE — President Joe Biden arrives for a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 3, 2024. Biden abandoned his campaign for a second term under intense pressure from fellow Democrats on Sunday, July 21, upending the race for the White House in a dramatic last-minute bid to find a new candidate who can stop former President Donald Trump from returning to the White House. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Biden drops out of race, endorses vice president Kamala Harris

The president announced the decision on social media Sunday.

Granite Falls ‘10-foot alligator’ is actually a tegu named ‘Tazz’

Anybody who spots the docile lizard, last seen near Granite Falls, is asked to notify 911, so Tazz can be reunited with owner.

Photos by Olivia Vanni / The Herald
Gabby Bullock sits on her bed in a room she shares with another housemate on June 14 in Everett.
‘We don’t have openings’: SnoCo recovery houses struggle with demand

Advocates say the homes are critical for addiction recovery. But home prices make starting a sober living house difficult.

Melinda Grenier serves patrons at her coffee truck called Hay Girl Coffee during the third annual Arlington Pride event in Arlington, Washington on Sunday, June 2, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Food safety team defends its work: it’s a ‘high pressure, thankless’ job

Management tried to set the record straight about long permit delays in Snohomish County.

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Olivia Vanni/The Herald)
Global tech outage leaves a mark on Snohomish County

The CrowdStrike software update hit some systems at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and briefly disrupted 911 operations.

Performers joust during the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire at Sky Meadows Park in Snohomish, Washington, on Sunday, Aug. 06, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Royalty and revelry: The spirit of the Renaissance comes to Monroe

The annual Renaissance fair will open its doors every weekend from July 20 to Aug. 18

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.