Departure of health officer puts pressure on commission

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

PLEASANTON – Linn County Commission Chair Rick James took on another title on Thursday, Sept. 23, when the county’s public health officer Robin Spencer ended her last day of working for the Linn County Health Department that morning.

Spencer, who is a nurse-practitioner, was the second employee to leave the department in as many weeks. Tisha Coleman, who served as LCHD Director for more than five years, left the department to work as a regional nurse for Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), last week.

Another nurse with the health department is departing to work for Prairie View USD 362. Those resignations cut the department’s staff nearly in half.

James said he anticipates there will be action at the commission meeting on Monday, Sept. 27, to get the department back on track again. However, he didn’t elaborate on what that action might be.

Spencer met with county commissioners in a closed-door session on Sept. 27 to discuss personnel. Following that closed session, commissioners voted to continue operating the county health department.

According to James she had already given a two-week notice to end her part-time position at the health department. However, following that meeting she opted to leave earlier.

Earlier this month, commissioners heard a preliminary proposal from Becky Johnson, the director of the Southeast Kansas Multi-County Health Department (SEKMCHD) for Linn County to rejoin that four-county system. Linn County left SEKMCHD in 2006 over the county’s annual payment to that system.

Johnson had been invited to speak to the commission by Commissioner Jim Johnson. SEKMCHD sites typically have one nurse and one receptionist, whereas the LCHD has four full-time workers including the director, and three part-time employees including a nurse-nurse-practitioner.

Under Coleman’s tenure, the county health department has greatly increased its programs and the number of grants it receives for different services. Although the annual budget for the department is about $189,000, James said it brings in more than $400,000 in grants for other programs. A new building for the department was constructed last year using COVID-19 grant money.

James worried that the proposal from SEKMCHD would likely make county health department workers concerned about their jobs. He also said that, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, health department workers have been open to public criticism.

“It’s been a tough year to work for the health department,” he said.

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