Board hires new Washington County health exec

MARIETTA – The Washington County Board of Health has appointed Court Witschey as full-time administrator at the county health department. Witschey, who has served as the Creating Healthy Communities Grant administrator at the health department for nearly a decade, said he’ll officially take the post on June 1.

“The board went into executive session and offered me the position at the end of last week’s health board meeting,” Witschey said. “They had to hire a full-time health administrator so the department wouldn’t lose our Public Health Emergency Preparedness Grant.”

That federal grant, worth $158,000 a year, is administered by the Ohio Department of Health and pays for mandated emergency planning, preparedness exercises, community preparedness education and related efforts throughout the 11-county region for which Betty King, regional public health emergency preparedness coordinator, is responsible.

The grant also covers full-time salaries for King and local emergency preparedness coordinator Angela Lowry, as well as portions of salaries for several other health department workers.

Earlier this month interim county health commissioner Dick Wittberg received a letter from ODH, informing the department that, without a full-time health administrator by June 3, the county would no longer qualify for the emergency preparedness grant.

“To be in compliance we needed a full-time director of environmental health, a full-time director of nursing and either a full-time health administrator or full-time health commissioner,” Witschey said.

The department has a full-time environmental health director and a full-time director of nursing, but Wittberg, who is also the director the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, could only serve as a part-time commissioner on the Washington County board of health.

Witschey said the board is now looking for someone to take over his post as administrator for the Creating Healthy Communities Grant, which is also a full-time position.

“The plan is to hire a full-time person to cover that grant, which is worth about $79,500, and comes to the health department from the Centers for Disease Control through the Ohio Department of Health,” he said.

Losing the emergency preparedness and the healthy communities grants would deal a significant blow to the health department’s annual budget, Witschey said.

“And if we lose one of the grants from ODH, we stand to lose them all,” he said.

County environmental health director Ken Robinson has served as part-time interim health administrator since the beginning of the year.

Wittberg said he felt Witschey was the logical choice for the administrator position.

“He’s already worked on a lot of healthy lifestyles issues in his current position, and Court is well-respected by his peers,” he said. “I really believe Court will do a good job as administrator. He’ll do fine.”

Wittberg said one of the first things he wants to do after Witschey becomes administrator is to begin developing a strategy to help the health department continue to move forward.

Witschey agreed.

“As I transition into this position I want to work with Dick to look at some strategic goals for the health department,” he said. “We want to provide some direction for the board.”

The health department has been struggling financially since December when the health board opted not to renew former health commissioner Kathleen Meckstroth’s $65,508 contract which expired at the end of 2012. In January the health board did not have enough funding to make the first payroll of 2013 and had to borrow that money in the form of an advance from the Washington County Commissioners.

Wittberg noted the department began the year with only $6,000 in available cash, but since then the overall revenue has increased to around $130,000.

When he becomes full-time health administrator, Witschey will earn approximately $41,600 a year, plus benefits.