By CARL SMITH
Members of the Oktibbeha County Health Department say the construction of a new facility will alleviate many growth-based problems the organization is currently experiencing.
Representatives of the Oktibbeha County Health Department and the Tombigbee Public Health District delivered a letter to county supervisors Monday asking the board to apply for a Community Development Block Grant to build a $1.27 million, 8,500-square-foot facility. The grant would cover 50 percent of the costs while the county would pay the remainder.
The county accepted the letter but took no action toward applying for the grant. Since CDBG grant applications are due May 18, the county has a small time frame to approve the application and hold public hearings on the matter. If approved for the grant, matching funds would need to be in place by July. The board is expected to continue discussion on the matter March 19.
The letter, presented by District Administrator Karen McPherson, lists issues concerning the department’s current facility including a lack of patient privacy throughout the building, fire hazards, inadequate space and a lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The current 3,000-square-foot facility was constructed in 1983.
“Because of significant growth, we can no longer provide proper patient care,” McPherson said Monday. “Not only do we serve low-income patient needs, but from birth to death, the health department touches every life.”
The Oktibbeha County Health Department accommodates 24 full-time staff members on a daily basis with only 14 offices. When additional doctors, nutritionists and disease intervention specialists are brought in, they are forced to share spaces. This issue, the letter states, creates an inability to provide services to clients in an efficient and confidential manner. The lack of space to accommodate visitors in some offices presents violations to both the ADA and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
“Confidentially is very hard in this building,” Traci Mann, a regional supervisor with the environmental health program, said. “It’s hard to maintain.”
Mann said space issues have not only forced employees into cramped spaces, but also samples the county tests in a number of programs. Water samples from various county water associations are now collected in a closet, she said. Also, McPherson’s letter states the building has inadequate space for a refrigerator to house vaccinations, which is a violation of the health department’s policy.
County Coordinating Nurse Ernestine Ivy said she is concerned about the makeshift children’s play area located near the building’s waiting room and front door.
“The door doesn’t latch, and the children play right there,” she said. “We’re worried one day we’ll have a child that’s gone missing in the blink of an eye.”
A new building designed to the true specifications of the health department would help maximize the group’s impact, Ivy said.
“I think we could function better as an organization with a new building; it would give the public a better view of what public health is all about,” Ivy said. “Public health is here to stay, and we want to better serve the citizens of Oktibbeha County.”
Golden Triangle Planning and Development District Project Administrator Patsy Patterson said she will be in attendance at the March 19 board meeting to answer any questions supervisors or OCHD representatives might have about the issue.
“The top priority as of late with the Mississippi Development Authority has been water and sewer projects; buildings are a No. 2 priority,” she said. “The health department can show a high percentage of impact with low-income residents, so that can still give (the project) a chance for approval.”
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said he would like to talk with health department representatives about their needs and possibly tour the current facility.
Due to the short time frame, he said the board might have a tough time finding extra funding for the matching grant.
“It’s late in the game. I’m not saying we can’t do it, but that’s why we need to meet with (representatives) as soon as possible,” Montgomery said Wednesday. “We’re pressed on time and pressed for funds.”