Deputy health administrator says Ottawa Co. Health Dept. feeling budget cuts

WEST OLIVE, Mich. — The Ottawa County Health Department provided some insight into its latest struggles after commissioners made some budget cuts.

At Tuesday’s Health Human Services Committee meeting, the deputy health officer outlined staffing capacity, hiring and retention issues the department hasn’t experienced in ten years.

Deputy Health Administrator Marcia Mansaray explained that 25 people separated from the department this year, including six who were let go when COVID-19 grants weren’t renewed. She adds the department has 12 full-time positions sitting open. At the meeting, she explained one position had six people lined up for an interview, but only one showed up.

Additionally, Mansaray said the services they offer are also being affected. She told commissioners food inspections for schools are being reduced. The deputy health administrator says schools are only receiving one inspection, rather than the usual two per year. The health department also tracks where they are on well and septic permits. Mansaray says they’re three weeks out. Currently, they’re working to respond to 30 permits, compared to the typical 15.

“Canary in the coal mine,” Mansaray warned. “We don’t like people waiting for those because they are connected to development and real estate sales.”

The county health department also presented a draft proposal to add funding to health education. The department sent commissioners a request of $121,000 to have a full-time health educator work as the Ottawa Food Coordinator. County documents show this request came after the county cut to health education and nutrition by 48% for FY24.

Mansaray told commissioners they had a conversation with County Administrator John Gibbs and Deputy Administrator Ben Wetmore about the need for this position.

Last month, Wetmore gave the board “Ottawa Food— Just the Facts.” In the presentation, Wetmore explained to the board members, “The Ottawa Food program is well-funded, has access to significant funds and funders and continues to receive funds from Ottawa County for three full-time staffers. The combined annual revenues of the 38 organizations that comprise the Ottawa Food collaborative is more than $220 million dollars.”

Mansaray followed up on the need for a county employee to work and coordinate with the organizations. “The coordination of county-wide work can continue to move forward. Most of the organizations do not serve county-wide,” Mansaray added.

Ottawa Food is not a state-mandated program. The deputy health administrator says the work does ensure health nutrition services requirements are met.

The department has also reduced the hours of its Hudsonville Health Department offices to just one half day each month. Mansaray explained that they had reduced the hours back on November 3, 2023.

She said their department is working on ideas around retaining current staff and/or attracting new staff.

“These sorts of things could possibly cause us to have conversations with the state. So we’re very encouraged by what you’re thinking through on how to retain and attract staff. And we want you to be aware of what we’re experiencing,” Mansaray said.

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