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Washington County health commissioner asks to manage project

MARIETTA — Health commissioner Dick Wittberg went before the Washington County Commission Thursday morning to discuss an AmeriCorps project for which he has been the director for the past year.

Wittberg said the project currently has four members, but the grant has increased to where he can have around 10 AmeriCorps members.

“Most of the members have been identified and recruited,” he said. “That’s another area that needs my help in the long run.”

Wittberg said right now, the AmeriCorps grant is through the commission, but is managed through the health department. He said that while his job likely won’t continue after the first of November, but he believes he should still be part of the program.

He is starting a nonprofit called Community Health Improvement Associates and asked the commission to let him manage the AmeriCorps program.

“I have a nonprofit. I have Chris Berg here who helps me manage this program,” Wittberg said. “Right now she’s a contract worker for this and would remain contract, but would come with me to do this. I would ask that the commission, at the beginning of the grant year, terminate the grant for the health department and let my Community Health Improvement Associates nonprofit manage the program.”

The health board has been in transition since last month when Wittberg was removed from his position as health commissioner by the health board with no reason evident in his personnel file or in meeting minutes. Board member Jim Rodgers resigned as a result. Two weeks ago, Court Witschey, director of population health with the Washington County Health Department resigned after 16 years with the department.

Wittberg said the AmeriCorps program doesn’t bring in much, if any, money to the health department. There is $7,500 in match money that comes from the sites where AmeriCorps members are placed, as well as match money from the work that is done in kind.

“This is work that I hope to continue to do long into the future because it could lead to jobs that will lead to better health,” Wittberg said.

The grant, which is for $130,000 to $140,000, pays the stipends of the AmeriCorps members who work in the field to help children learn to read and have a lot of educational programs.

“We have our members visit identified patients on a weekly basis, then report back to the clinical team,” Wittberg said, noting the patients are identified as having medical issues such as diabetes.

A couple of the members will start training in September to work with those in recovery, he added.

“And it’s a program you’re committed to staying with beyond the current grant cycle?” asked Commissioner Kevin Ritter.

“Absolutely,” Wittberg answered.

Wittberg said after the meeting that the health department won’t be able to work broadly like he can to get placements and raise money for the program.

Commissioner Ron Feathers said the only hurdle he could see would be whether or not the county could enter into an agreement and be the pass-through grant local government authority for a nonprofit organization.

“So we would have to get a copy of the grant contract or the grant information and turn it over to our prosecuting attorney and let them pore through it to make sure,” he added.

Commission President David White said they want to make sure they have every base legally covered, but he would be willing to consider it.

The current agreement with the health department is for a three-year grant.

Wittberg said his nonprofit, Community Health Improvement Associates, is already helping support a VISTA member through the Washington County Board of Behavioral Health. They are also working with Hopewell on a project that will use CHIA as a platform.

“I support the community health worker program that’s at the health department and I hope it stays at the health department,” he said. “I don’t know how to sustain the AmeriCorps if it stays at the health department.”

In other commission news:

* The commissioners received a notice of commencement for the landslip repair of County Road 42. Roger Wright, county engineer, said the road will be closed for 28 days for repairs.

He added there will be message boards placed a few days before work begins to warn people of the imminent closure, which should begin in approximately two weeks.

* An update on the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley was given by Mike Montgomery, president of the board of directors, and Karissa Reynolds, shelter manager. They reported that this month, there have been 263 outgoing cats with 360 incoming, and 182 outgoing dogs, with 205 incoming.

From November 2018 through July 2019, the budgeted income was $308,804 with actual income of $271,678, while budgeted expenses were $370,450 with actual expenses of $401,295. They have been billed directly from vets $91,063 year to date.

“We average $10,000 a month in vet bills,” Montgomery said, adding the shelter is $60,000 “in the hole for the year.”

Reynolds said that since she became manager in May, the shelter has been consistently at full capacity, as the shelter does not euthanize for space.

* Major Troy Hawkins of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office went before the commission to report that the Warren Local school district will soon be getting a new school resource officer. Deputy Brad Holbert will be spending school hours at the three district schools. The school district will be paying his salary while he’s at the schools, which will be about 75 percent of his salary, an estimated $35,000 a year.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

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Calendar

* Weekly meeting, 9 a.m., Thursday, 1115 Gilman Ave.

* Monthly WCBHB meeting, 7 p.m., Thursday, commissioner public meeting room

* Courthouse closed for Labor Day, Sept. 2

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