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Regional News

Spokane Legislator Pushes For Change In State Public Health

TVW screenshot

A Spokane legislator is promoting a bill that proposes changes to Washington’s public health system.

Representative Marcus Riccelli [D-Spokane] says the legislature has allowed funding for public health to erode over the years, which leaves it vulnerable when it’s most needed. His legislation received a hearing Thursday before the House Health Care Committee.

Riccelli proposes to create a work group to study stable funding options for state and local health departments. His legislation also requires counties to create what he calls regional public health districts overseen by a mix of elected officials and health professionals.

“Boards that are balanced with health care professionals, consumers, public health folks, that will be looking for the greater good and how we’re connecting as a state. It should still be locally implemented so that those local initiatives rise to the top on how we’re handling disease and local public health issues," he said.

Riccelli is motivated in part by the firing last fall of former Spokane County Health Officer Bob Lutz, a move he believes was politically motivated. He says the current structure of Spokane’s health board puts too much emphasis on economic interests and not enough on public health.

His bill, which received a hearing in the House Health Care Committee Thursday, received some push back from legislators and health officials in rural counties, including Amy Person. She is the health officer for the Benton-Franklin County Health District and for Klickitat County.

“Public health is more than just the absence of disease. It is building economic opportunity, strengthening community resilience and building social supports. This skill comes from understanding retention or different values may exist in a community and building relationships that can work through those differences. Dismissing those differences moves community buy in for public health efforts and that’s what breeds distrust, defiance and opposition," Person said.

Riccelli’s bill would give final decision for hiring and removing health officers to the secretary of the state Department of Health.