Scotts Bluff County, which for years has operated its own county health department, will now be part of the 12-county Panhandle Public Health District, which covers the entire Nebraska Panhandle plus Grant County.
County Health Director Paulette Schnell told the county board all the other counties have signed onto the interlocal agreement to form the Panhandle Public Health District. She said that by approving a resolution to join, the county would be a health department within a health district.
With unanimous approval from the county commissioners, the resolution must also be approved by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
“This is a great way for the county to collaborate with the Panhandle Public Health District,” Schnell said. “We’ll be able to bring more health funding to the Panhandle and affiliate with the district for the accreditation they’ve worked so hard for. This agreement will be a great improvement for where we’re going.”
Schnell added the agreement will provide additional personnel as she performs two jobs, as County Health Director and Community Health Nurse at Regional West Medical Center.
Jessica Davies, Assistant Health Director for the Panhandle Public Health District, said the agency was formed several years ago with eight members. “The addition of Scotts Bluff County allows us to continue leveraging opportunities for public health service and resources for all the residents in the area.”
Davies said the district has had a close working relationship with the county health department for several years in a number of different capacities. The agreement solidifies that relationship even more.
Under the agreement, the health department will remain at the county offices in Gering. “Some of our taxes go toward that department and we’ll be able to continue using those funds within the county to provide services,” Schnell said. “This agreement will help expand services we haven’t been able to do because we’re such a small department with limited funding.”
One instance she pointed out was the county was unable to join in the federal tobacco lawsuit settlement.
With the merger of the county into the health district, a larger population will leverage funding from other state and federal health agencies. The group will now serve about 87,000 people within the 12-county district.
Davies said the district will start working in January on revising its community health improvement plan in partnership with the district’s hospitals.
“One of the things we’re working on now is biking and hiking active transportation study with Scottsbluff and Gering,” she said. “We’re also working of establishing more links with clinics, hospitals and pharmacists across the district. It’s exciting to expand our public health initiative.”
The Panhandle Public Health District is based in Hemingford, with offices in Bridgeport and Scottsbluff.