Spokane Regional Health District budget leads to layoffs, reorganization

<p><p>Six jobs were eliminated in next year’s Spokane Regional Health District budget, including two held by veteran employees who were laid off last week.</p></p><p><p>The Spokane Board of Health unanimously passed the 2022 budget of $47.8 million, including nearly $2 million in local funds from Spokane County, on Dec. 2.</p></p><p><p>Although the budget is up $2 million from the year before, the health district said cuts were needed, in part, because of employee pay raises.</p></p><p><p>Four of the positions were vacant, and the other two employees were laid off on Monday, said health district Administrator Amelia Clark. They were placed on administrative leave until the end of the year and were escorted off the property in accordance with “a risk management practice for the organization.”</p></p><p><p>Tiffany Turner, the associate director for disease management and response, lost her job as a result of the budget cuts. Turner had also led emergency preparedness coordination for the district. Clark said the program manager in emergency preparedness will assume those duties.</p></p><p><p>Turner led COVID response efforts following <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/jul/30/letter-longtime-now-retired-health-district-employ” target=”_blank”>Lyndia Wilson’s departure</a> earlier this year. Now, those responsibilities have been redistributed to multiple people, Clark said.</p></p><p><p>“I’m confident in our managers who have been working in that to continue that, since we stepped down our internal incident command structure, we haven’t had an incident commander per se so it’s been falling into normal functions,” Clark said.</p></p><p><p>Donna Oliver, who led the Healthy Neighborhoods and Communities program, also lost her job with the cuts. Clark is restructuring that program, rebranding it to the Health Equity Program, and will hire a new health equity manager to run it. Clark said no programs will be cut as a result of the new budget.</p></p><p><p>Despite having both veteran employees escorted off the premises, Clark said they are welcome to apply for open positions.</p></p><p><p>The new 2022 budget also cuts another staff role in Oliver’s old program, the health equity officer position, a manager role in finance and another director role for the Division of Quality Planning and Assessment, which will no longer be its own division.</p></p><p><p>Eliminating several management positions means reorganizing the district’s structure. Clark has decided to picked the county’s health officer to lead the Disease Prevention and Response division, which has about 50 employees.</p></p><p><p>Clark said Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez will have five managers reporting directly to him, a team that will allow him to lead a large team in addition to his duties prescribed in state law as the health officer.</p></p><p><p>“I feel really confident in Dr. Velázquez’s skills not only as a physician, but he has professional experience running multi-faceted corporations and having a C-suite that reports to him, so I feel very confident he can do this,” Clark said.</p></p><p><p>Clark still will need to hire a new division director for Community Health. The Division of Quality Planning and Assessment, responsible for the data center, is moving under the Disease Prevention and Response division. Emergency preparedness and response will move under the administration. HIV case management will move to Community Health.</p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Despite COVID funding coming to the district to buffer response efforts in the past two years,</span> Clark said COVID funds have waned, leading to the necessity to slim down. The vast majority of the health district’s budget is composed of state and federal funding.</p></p><p><p>“Anything that there was CARES funding for we used that cushion, so in the 2021 budget it created a reserve to offset and not cut things,” Clark said. “But for 2022 we don’t have that reserve.”</p></p><p><p>The Spokane Board of Health <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/nov/01/spokane-board-of-health-asks-for-american-rescue-p” target=”_blank”>conducted a funding review</a> to trim their budget request to the county earlier this fall.</p></p><p><p>Despite the job cuts, the 2022 budget is actually $2 million more than last year’s budget.</p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Beyond having to fund more COVID response efforts in the coming year without pulling from reserves, t</span> The district’s expenses increased due to implementations from a pay compensation study, according to district spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins. While the 17% salary increase was partially covered by CARES funding during the COVID response, that is not the case in 2022.</p></p><p><p>“In 2022, the health district will fully take on that increased expense and needed to budget accordingly,” Hawkins wrote in an email.</p></p><p><p>The Spokane County Commission has yet to approve the health district’s request for American Rescue Plan funds. District official have asked for $4 million to improve its building and infrastructure.</p></p>