Erie County Executive Brenton Davis is seeking to add seats to the health department’s advisory board in a bid to select new members and expand its expertise.
On Thursday, Erie County Board members debated Davis’ proposal to amend the county’s administrative code to allow up to nine members on the Erie County Board of Health.
The administrative code, reflecting state law, allows for a maximum of five members. Each serves a staggered four-year term and acts in an advisory capacity to the Chief Health Officer.
County Administration Director Doug Smith said the council acquired a sixth member last year – due to pandemic-related attendance issues – and remains non-compliant.
By changing the code and adding more members, he said, the council will not only return to compliance, but also improve expertise and communication between the health department and area hospitals.
“We’ve had a lot of interest from people to serve on the board and we think it’s a good thing for the county and a good thing for the health-hospital relationship,” said Smith.
Mrenak appointed director of healthMrenak hired to lead Erie County Health Department
Erie County Health Director Erin Mrenak agreed.
“We’re in a unique position where there’s always been a disconnect between hospital care and public health, and the pandemic has really forced them closer together, and we’ve built partnerships that we haven’t had the opportunity to do before,” she said. “Having hospital representatives from each system on our board helps us stay involved. It helps them bring back to their systems what public health is.”
Mrenak told the council that other health departments of similar size in Pennsylvania have chosen to increase their councils without any problem from the state.
Republican Councilwoman Ellen Schauerman asked Mrenak to “get something in writing” from the state to make sure the expansion is okay.
She added her support for the expansion.
“When it comes to something that involves the health and well-being of everyone in Erie County and the Erie County environment, I don’t think we should lower our focus to five. people,” she said. “I think the more professional experience you have (you have), the more input you bring to the board to make decisions.”
Some feedback on the idea
Other board members were less enthusiastic, including Democratic adviser Andre Horton, who said the expansion amounted to unnecessary bureaucracy.
“I won’t support that,” he said. “The administrative code is there for a reason and I’m not comfortable playing with it. There’s nothing stopping (the council) from having those relationships now. I think five is enough.”
Democratic Councilwoman Mary Rennie acknowledged the council does not have the power to change policy, but expressed concern that a county executive could compete for more influence over public health decisions. .
“There is some concern within the council that if (the council) weighs heavily on the administration – regardless of the administration – that this is a long-term public health concern,” she said. .
County attorney Tom Talarico agreed.
“The advisory board influences decisions made by the Department of Health,” he told the Erie Times-News. “If the county executive is going to put every one of their friends on the advisory board, they are certainly in a position to indirectly influence the Department of Health.”
Talarico said the administration originally requested an expansion of the board because the board was having difficulty establishing a quorum, a reason he said did not warrant adding more members.
“If the administration can’t name the people who are going to do the job and show up, then it’s not a county council problem or a ‘five member problem’, it’s a failure to appoint the right people. people to do the job,” he said. “I’m not saying the administration is doing anything wrong. I just don’t agree to fix something that isn’t broken.”
Smith told the Erie Times-News he was surprised by the resistance.
“I didn’t expect it,” he said. “It’s really just an opportunity for more medical professionals to help the Board of Health and its mission. It’s an advisory board, so there’s no particular power that goes with it other than a advisory capacity.
Smith submitted two new board members on Thursday: Dr. Timothy Pelkowski and Laura Lewis. The Board declined to consider the nominees pending further discussions on amending the administrative code.
Members of the Erie County Board of Health are Bishop Clifton McNair III; Dr. Ferdinando Mirarchi; Dr. Richard Ortoski; Dr. Carla Picardo; Mary Jean Taylor and Timothy Zieziula.
The council will discuss council expansion at a regular meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Erie County Courthouse.
AJ Rao can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNRao.