Group working toward levy to support local health office
It has an official name, committees have been formed and efforts to establish a publicly-funded health office in Saline County are pushing towards a petition drive and establishing a spot on the April 2002 ballot.
"I think, as some things come up like the anthrax scare, then you really see the things we should have," noted Saline County Health Office Administrator Jill Hieronymous.
Meeting Wednesday evening, the Saline County Citizens to Protect Our Health unanimously approved their name and the formation of a marketing committee, petition committee and a public education committee during a meeting at the Wood & Huston Bank conference room.
The goal of the group is to garner public support for a tax levy to support a local public health department that can offer additional health services compared to what is currently being provided with state funding at the county health office in Marshall.
"That's one of our challenges, to be sure everyone understands this is something that's going to help everybody personally," noted Joan Schlanker, the assistant district health director for the Northeastern District office of the state health department, who was on hand to outline the benefits of a local levy-funded public health office.
Some of the service enhancements Schlanker listed as benefits of a local system included: enhanced environmental services, in-home visits for high-risk newborns, in-school education to prevent adolescent pregnancies, bilingual services, expanded nutrition site consultations, pill box/syringe fills, access to local medical follow-ups, head lice checks, education programs and more.
If the ballot measure is approved, the health office would be run by a five-member Board of Trustees who would initially be appointed by the Saline County Commission and then be elected and run the health office independently.
If the campaign is successful and residents approve a tax contribution to fund the health office it may also generate more state grants, Schlanker noted.
"The (state says) if you do not see it as a local priority to address the needs why should we make it a priority," she noted. "In 85 counties in Missouri, citizens have said 'Yes we are willing to have a dedicated tax just to support public health.'"
The committees formed Wednesday night will work together to approach local organizations and service clubs, create public awareness, develop a campaign and gather about 1,200 signatures on a petition over the next two months.
"We need to know things like how to make this very real and feasible to different kinds of people," urged Dr. Melanie Elfrink, the chairwoman of the Saline County Citizens to Protect Our Health.
The group of about 40 people at the meeting also appointed a treasurer, Pat Cooper, and a secretary, Susan Vogelsmeier, to help throughout the campaign. They must have a petition handed in to the county clerk by Jan. 14, 2002, and request to be on the spring ballot by Jan. 16.
The Saline County Citizens to Protect our Health will meet again Nov. 19 in the Wood & Huston Bank's conference room on the Marshall square at 6:30 p.m.