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Big Changes Recommended At Meck. County Health Dept.

Alex Olgin

Mecklenburg County leaders are considering structural changes to the troubled health department.  Commissioners heard suggestions from two outside consultants on how to fix the department they found is poorly managed and doesn't have a sufficient system to track patient records. 

Commissioners have heard a lot about the department's problems, since they acknowledged in February that 185 women weren't told about their abnormal Pap smears for several months. Still, Commissioner Trevor Fuller said he was surprised by the consultants' findings.

“This is very sobering,” he said. “Essentially we are not providing care to the level I would expect us to do in Mecklenburg County and we’ve got to be committed to making the changes that are necessary. It's not just management, it’s the whole structure.”

Consultant Robert Kirk from the firm Navigant assured commissioners the problems at the health department are fixable. One commissioner wondered if the changes need to go even higher, possibly to the board that regulates the health department. George Dunlap wondered aloud if it would be better to have clinicians and health experts serving as the board of health instead of commissioners.

“I think it’s something worthy of us taking another look at because I think that maybe having those persons in place may in some way help prevent us from being in this place again,” Dunlap said.

At least for now the county is focused on changes at the department level.

Navigant’s other suggestionsinclude storing all medical records electronically, centralizing care to make patient visits more efficient, and more clearly defining jobs in the department of 800 employees. Kirk said clinicians did work that assistants should do. The county is also looking at creating a bigger leadership teamand narrowing each manager’s focus so they supervise fewer employees.

Commissioner Pat Cotham says she had hoped to hear more about patients. Because she believes there are more than just internal issues.

“We have a customer service problem as well,” Cotham said it is important to show patients. “They do matter and we are not going to have them sit there for hours. To me it’s a major thing because it affects people every day who have gone over there.”

Consultants estimated if all recommendations are followed it could cost more than $1.5 million and take at least a year. County Manager Dena Diorio said as changes are made things will likely get worse before they get better. She will have details on a plan for implementing recommendations at the next meeting in August.