- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Officials in Loudoun and Prince William counties are looking to take control of their own health departments, independent from the agencies operated by the commonwealth of Virginia.

If approved by Gov. Ralph Northam, the change would make most of Northern Virginia independent of the state-run system.

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall told The Washington Times that it would make health-related matters run more smoothly and efficiently.

“Even when it’s not the pandemic, going through the state — especially the state health director — it’s one more layer that we have to kind of climb over that hurdle. And for counties that are large — Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax — it’s just kind of a form of government that’s just antiquated,” Ms. Randall said of the state-run health department.

“I think for the citizens of our county, they will see either no difference, or it may be that because there’s not that extra step, there may be kind of streamlined services at times,” she added.

Ms. Randall noted that creating a county-run health agency has been advocated as a priority for years to address a retention issue within the health system.

Currently, state health districts typically operate on a mixed-staff basis, with both state and county employees working in the same department. However, a stark pay difference between the two makes it hard to keep state employees, Ms. Randall said.

“The state employees are paid substantially less than the county employees. And although the county does do a supplemental to try to bring the pay even, even with the supplemental, it doesn’t really bring it even,” the Loudoun County lawmaker said.

“When people work with us and they are state employees [and] make that much less money, they can go one county over to Fairfax and make a lot more money because Fairfax has its own health system,” Ms. Randall said.

Additionally, it would be easier from an administrative standpoint to have all employees on the same system regarding policies, pay and, when necessary, discipline, she added.

Fairfax and Arlington counties established their own health departments in 1995 and 1998, respectively. If the changes are approved for Loudoun and Prince William counties, these would be the only four counties in the state with such authority.

The General Assembly passed legislation that would authorize Loudoun County to operate an independent health agency. Ms. Randall said that Prince William County officials asked Mr. Northam to include their jurisdiction.

“We have not heard any pushback. It came out of the legislative bodies with no major opposition,” Ms. Randall said, adding that she doesn’t know when the legislation will be signed.

Mr. Northam has until March 31 to sign the bill, which was introduced by state Sen. Barbara Favola of Arlington.

Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for the Northam administration, told WTOP Radio that the governor is still reviewing the bill but generally supports renovating and increasing funding for the state’s public health.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a number of challenges with public health infrastructure across the country, and in Virginia we aren’t waiting for the next crisis to take action,” Ms. Yarmosky told the radio station.

Mr. Northam‘s office did not respond to a request for comment.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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