City council and county commission members today discussed at length how to proceed with making improvements to the Washoe County Health District. Most voiced concerns with some aspects of how the district has been managed in the past five years.
Offices with Reno, Sparks and Washoe County voted to move forward with each jurisdiction working together to identify problem areas and solutions. Even those who sit on the health board acknowledged areas for improvement.
Reno City Council member Oscar Delgado, a board of health member, acknowledged communication problems exist with the health district. He mentioned health board members finding out about problems at the district in the news as an example. He questioned, however, the intent of making changes to the district.
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve was one of the most vocal about what she called the need to make changes.
“I thought [it was a] good conversation but doing nothing to me isn’t an option and not fair to our community,” she said. “This pandemic has really highlighted inadequacies. Those existed before, but there wasn’t the political will then. I think there is now.”
Commissioners and council members were quick to stress today’s discussion was not about certain personalities, but the discussion largely focused on frustrations with the health district’s leadership and policy implementation under District Health Officer Kevin Dick.
Schieve noted how local jurisdictions had to appeal to the Governor a few years ago when a problem erupted and Dick would not cooperate. Dick ultimately admitted to many of the same people meeting today, in 2018, that the state had to step in and make the health district change its review practices for water projects.
“We received direction from [the NDEP and the federal Environmental Protection Agency] to work to modify our review process, to do a better job of ensuring that the [Nevada Administrative Code] requirements were being met,” Dick said at the time.
Reno Council member Jenny Brekhus said she was opposed to making structural changes now, citing the pandemic. Councilmember Devon Reese agreed. They said the health district should not be politicized by individuals or elected officials.
Making radical changes to the district is unlikely due to legal restrictions, but nearly everyone agreed a name change was in order. Ideas discussed were the Truckee Meadows Health District and Northern Nevada Health District.
County Commissioners Kitty Jung and Vaughn Hartung both commented how they constantly receive complaints about the Washoe County School District and Health District, respectively. The school and health districts are both accountable to their own boards, not the county.
The group agreed today that jurisdictions will work together, including health district participation, to find ways for improvement and a possible restructure of the district.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.