DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — The Board of Douglas County Commissioners on Wednesday directed staff to draft a resolution that will be the first step in the county withdrawing from the Tri-County Health Department (TCHD).
Staff were also directed to draft a letter to TCHD notifying the agency of the county’s intent to create their own health department. The resolution will be heard on Sept. 7 and is expected to pass.
The commissioners’ move to expedite the process of leaving TCHD comes after the health agency’s Board of Health voted Monday to require masks for everyone 2 and up in indoor school and child care settings and rescind the ability for individual counties to opt out of the public health order.
Commissioners had voted in August to opt out of the health department’s public health order to require masks in schools. However, the Douglas County School District said they are following Tri-County’s guidelines and have required student’s in the district to mask up.
Douglas County commissioners have been down this road before. Last year, commissioners threatened to leave TCHD over stay-at-home orders issued by the agency during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, commissioners agreed to stay after they were promised more control over local health orders.
"It was very apparent, from what I observed when I watched the Tri-County Board of Health meeting on Monday, there's a real us-versus-them mentality that has developed," George Teal, a Douglas County commissioner, told Denver7 Wednesday. "Even if its not a reflection of what the board members feel individually, what they said, the words they chose to use and expressed... it was pretty apparent that in their minds, Douglas County has become the 'them.'"
Following the passage of the resolution, Douglas County has 90 days to appoint a Board of Health, which commissioners would hand pick. The county would contract with TCHD for the remainder of 2021.
Teal said he anticipates the entire process will move swiftly.
"As far as a timeline, I suspect before September turns to October, we will appoint a public health board in Douglas County that will have that public health authority here in Douglas County," he said.
Right now, the county is conducting a community health assessment that will help determine which services the new health department needs to offer. Some services will remain contracted through TCHD.
As of Tuesday evening, just over 2,500 Douglas County residents had opted in to the assessment, according to a county spokesperson. Teal said the participation speaks volumes to the desires of constituents.
"They, too, would like to withdraw from Tri-County Health and have Douglas County residents making decisions for Douglas County residents." the commissioner said.
Tri-County released the following statement Wednesday:
“We are saddened to hear of Douglas County’s desire to leave Tri-County Health Department after a long and rich history of providing quality public health services to the residents of Douglas County. We are committed to keeping Douglas County safe and healthy and will continue to provide these services as long as necessary to make the transition as smooth as possible for the county’s residents and our staff."
According to Douglas County's attorney, as soon as the transition is made, the county can choose to create its own public health orders or none at all.