MARIETTA - Citing financial pressures, the Washington County Board of Health on Tuesday did not renew health commissioner Kathleen Meckstroth's contract.
More cutbacks could follow, officials said.
"The health department has had financial difficulties for some time, and we simply cannot afford to continue to do many of the things we're doing-there has to be some changes, we have to cut back," health board President Richard Daniell said Thursday.
After the first of the year there will probably be a reorganization at the health department due to dwindling state and federal funding support, he said.
"At this point, this is the only cut that's immediate," Daniell said. "And I don't know if other cuts are coming."
Meckstroth has been with the health department for 14 years. Her contract expires Dec. 31 and Daniell said Meckstroth declined the board's offer to serve a two-week notice. She decided to immediately leave, Daniella said.
"I understand she's retiring," Daniell said. "But this was not done with any malicious forethought. It was just a necessary action."
Meckstroth was in the office Wednesday.
The Times phoned the health department and asked to talk with Meckstroth Thursday, but was told she no longer works there. A call to Meckstroth's residence was not returned Thursday night.
Daniell said the department just received a clean report on its financial bookkeeping from a two-year audit by the state auditor's office.
"Our only problem is that we're short on funding sources, and we're just going to have to make some changes," he said. "And we have had some indication of further cuts in state funding in the coming year."
Daniell also said that one of the department's traditional revenue sources, administering annual flu shots, has also decreased because the shots are now available at most drug stores and some pharmacies are charging customers a price lower than the health department's cost.
He said health department expenses continue to rise, noting the cost of employee health insurance has been increasing at a rate of about 7 percent a year.
"We've been running too close for too long," Daniell said. "Our funding has been reduced in each of the last three years in a row, and we don't see that coming back. But we're trying to stay viable and continue to provide services for the community."
He said operation of the Southeastern Ohio Dental Clinic would continue.
Daniell said the position of health commissioner held by Meckstroth would not exist as such, but the board may consider hiring an administrator to head the department instead.
Washington County Commissioner Cora Marshall said the commission has not been notified by the health board, but the she county is not a funding source for the health department.
She said members of the health board are appointed by the Washington County Township Trustees Association.
Trustees association president Gene Morris said once the health board members are approved, the trustees have little contact with them. He said the trustees group does provide some funding for the health board, although he did not know the amount.
"We do help them some financially, but we pretty much let the board operate on its own," Morris said. "They send us an annual report, and we were aware the department has been facing some financial problems."
He said the trustees association had not been told that Meckstroth's contract would not be renewed.
Daniell said the health board will discuss reorganization of the health department at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 in the conference room at the health department, 342 Muskingum Drive.