Consolidating health districts makes us queasy

Published 9:11 pm Friday, March 6, 2015

Back in mid-November, The Tidewater News reminded readers that the paper supports shared-service arrangements among Western Tidewater localities, provided those consolidations have been carefully thought out. At the time, we were thinking of the proposed shared wastewater options between Franklin and Southampton. We advocated then that such mergers must benefit residents. That position remains unchanged, particularly with the announcement of a new proposed consolidation.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe and company in Richmond are looking at merging the Chesapeake and Western Tidewater health districts as way to help reduce an $882 million revenue shortfall this fiscal year and next. Reportedly, the consolidation could save more than $1.9 million in that time.

While we appreciate that the governor’s looking to reduce expenses, our concern is that amount doesn’t justify taking away or cutting back on needed health services. A consolidation of the two health districts could include: eliminating a field office; cutting back on vaccine inventory; moving health services from state support to local responsibility; and reducing the use of wage positions.

We’re thinking the merger might do more harm than good. That’s an issue evidently shared by both the Southampton County Board of Supervisors and Western Tidewater Health Director Dr. Nancy Welch. Further, the supervisors and Welch say the health districts have too many differences and too few similarities to justify combining them. We’re inclined to agree.

Welch is reportedly optimistic that the merger won’t happen. Sadly, we can’t share that outlook. So we urge the board and Welch to continue speaking out against the proposal and not trust to word from sources in Richmond until the matter is settled.