In a major step in Douglas County’s long-simmering separation from the agency that has safeguarded its residents’ health for 55 years, county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to create a new health department.
The new department will have authority over Douglas County public health after commissioners appoint a board of health and that board has had its first meeting, according to the resolution passed at a special business meeting.
The commissioners now have 90 days to form a board of health. Earlier in the day, commissioners agreed on the members of a five-person board of health, including two of the county commissioners.
Tuesday’s move is the latest chapter in a rift between Douglas County and the Tri-County Health Department that has grown steadily wider since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year. Tri-County is the public health agency for Douglas as well as Adams and Arapahoe counties.
The county’s conservative leaders have often opposed Tri-County’s COVID-safety mandates, as have many Douglas County residents. Last week, many students protested at county schools over mask-wearing requirements adopted in response to Tri-County rules.
“This new public health department that we are going to build in Douglas County, I believe, is going to be a model that people across the country are going to look at to streamline their public health departments as well,” county Commissioner Lora Thomas said in the meeting.
Despite Tuesday’s action, Douglas County plans to maintain ties with the multi-county health agency.
Having already paid for Tri-County’s services until the end of the year, the county plans to continue using those services but with its own board of health, commissioners said.
The commissioners have also expressed interest in contracting services from Tri-County beyond this year.
They plan to appoint the board members at a Sept. 14 meeting.