Board of Health passes policy requiring third-party vendors pay

Richmond Community Schools’ food vendor will be charged permit fees.

The Wayne County Board of Health on Feb. 16 approved a policy that does not charge nonprofits or schools for their food-service permits; however, for-profit third-party companies that contract with schools will be charged.

That would require Chartwells to pay the $250 permit fee for each of RCS’ 11 locations, resulting in an additional $2,750 in permit revenue. The health department only found out that RCS and Nettle Creek schools outsource food service to Chartwells when the company applied for and paid for permits for Nettle Creek’s two buildings, said Christine Stinson, executive director of the Wayne County Health Department.

The board originally heard about the issue during its January meeting, learning that there was no written policy — only a tradition of waiving permit fees for nonprofits and schools. Stinson was asked to write a policy.

On Feb. 16, she provided two options. The other would have charged all schools the fee because state code considers their cafeterias food establishments, but there was no board support for that version.

Stinson said Chartwells pays for permits in other counties but had refused to pay fees for its RCS facilities when asked by the department and its county attorney.

Public health legislation

Stinson also updated the board about legislation that would increase funding for local public health departments while requiring those departments provide core services.

The legislation resulted from a commission charged by Gov. Eric Holcomb to study local public health inequities within the state. Per-capita funding currently varies greatly among urban and rural counties.

“COVID shined a light on discrepancies across the state and how poorly we’re funded,” Stinson said about creation of the commission. “What they saw was we’re in the low level in just about everything, and so they said, you’ve got to increase funding for public health.”

Wayne County currently funds the health department at $11.34 per person. That would increase by $31 dollars per person next year if the legislation, which originates in the Senate, passes. The base increase is $26 per person; however, Wayne County qualifies for an additional $5 per person because of its Social Vulnerability Index ranking and its average life expectancy that lags below the state average.

The bill includes an additional $100 million in local health department funding statewide during 2024 and $200 million during 2025. Wayne County would receive $1,036,000 during 2024 and $2,063,000 during 2025.

To receive the funding, the county must opt-in and must provide 2024 health department funding equal to the average of its funding during 2020, 2021 and 2022, which is $750,000. That would provide the department with $1,786,000 during 2024.

The legislation lists requirements that expand beyond what the health department currently provides with its funding and staffing levels. The department offers many of the required services; however, it falls short in preventive measures, such as for tobacco prevention and cessation, trauma and injury prevention and screenings and referrals.

“We’re going to shift from reactionary public health to proactive public health,” Stinson said. “It’s probably the biggest change since the invention of public health.”

COVID update

Wayne County’s COVID-19 cases had been relatively steady at about eight to 10 cases per day, Stinson said, until 31 cases were reported Feb. 15.

She said there didn’t seem to be a single reason for the spike, which involves an omicron variant that’s highly contagious. Stinson said residents should receive the bivalent booster vaccine to prevent serious effects if they should catch COVID-19.

“It’s important to take your vaccination when you’re due for your vaccination,” Stinson said.

Anyone more than two months removed from a primary series or regular booster should receive the bivalent booster. The health department offers vaccinations Monday through Friday, with special hours until 7 p.m. on Mondays and from 8 a.m. to noon the first Saturday of each month.

Stinson said a prevalence of home testing prevents accurate counting of cases. Anyone who tests positive should isolate at home for five days, then if symptoms are improved, wear a properly fitting mask for five additional days. The department does provide free home test kids.

The Indiana State Department of Health’s Feb. 14 update shows Wayne County has had 23,311 total laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and 353 deaths from COVID-19 complications. There were 195 cases and two deaths during January and 133 cases with two deaths so far in February.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates the county’s COVID-19 level as medium.

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Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.