Cranford to eliminate health department

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Following rumors that have been circulating for weeks, Cranford makes the removal of their local health department official, and signs on with Westfield for complete health department coverage.

CRANFORD – Rumors that the health department might be completely taken over by Westfield by the beginning of the year became official this week when two employees were notified Friday their positions were being eliminated as of 2014.

According to sources, the public health inspector and part-time administrative clerk positions will be eliminated as of Dec. 31.
Although LocalSource inquired about such a change occurring in the last several weeks, governing body members were mum on the issue, preferring to say the matter was “still under consideration.”

Adding more mystery to what was in the works for the department that has seen many changes since 2011 was the 11th hour decision by the Township Committee to pull a resolution renewing Westfield’s shared services agreement for 2014 from last week’s public meeting. However there were other signs this department was about to undergo major change.

For example, Jennifer Kobliska, appointed in 2011 by the governing body as health department administrative assistant and registrar of vital statistics, was recently moved out of the health department and into the position of assistant to the township administrator. This appointment was finalized by Township Committee resolution at a meeting in early November, effective Oct. 28.

At the same time, Kobliska was also reappointed as township registrar of vital statistics, giving rise to speculation that the township was about to eliminate the health department. State law requires every municipality maintain at least a part-time registrar, even when public health services are being provided by another municipality through an interlocal agreement.

The township health department underwent a major change in September 2011 when health officer Warren Hehl, an employee for 23 years, left to take a position as Rahway’s Director of Health and Senior Services.

At that time the governing body made a decision to contract with Westfield for health officer services, which is required by state law. The township could have opted to hire another health officer, but ultimately decided to go in another direction.

In January 2012 the governing body signed an interlocal agreement with the Westfield Regional Health Department, appointing Megan Avallone, health director of the WRHD, as the township’s new health officer. However, in making that decision the township sacrificed having an on-site health officer, which the municipality always had previously.

At the time one governing body member said that by going for an interlocal agreement for public health services, the township was able to save taxpayer dollars. Hehl was earning $92,205 a year when he left, considerably more than the 2012 contract Westfield negotiated with Cranford, which was below $60,000 annually.

As health director for the WRHD, Avallone heads a regionalized conglomerate overseeing the towns of Garwood, Roselle Park, Mountainside, Fanwood, New Providence, Summit and Cranford. The WRHS previously oversaw Springfield, but that changed when this municipality decided to negotiate an interlocal agreement with Madison for these same services.

Every town that opts to go into a regionalized public health system has the option of selecting the services they require. For example, Cranford required state mandated health officer coverage, as well as several other mandated services, which the WRHD provided for a fee. That fee, though, is usually less than what a municipality would pay a full-time health officer.

According to the last negotiated interlocal agreement the township signed with Westfield in February 2013, obtained by LocalSource using the Open Public Records Act, the township amended its January 2013 interlocal agreement to include nursing services. This increased the annual amount Cranford was paying for public health and nursing services to $77,756 a year. That will change in 2014 with the township opting to shift all public services over to WRHD.

Municipalities are required by state law to have nursing services, which include communicable disease investigations, hypertension readings and health education, among other things.

It is unknown at this point how much the township will have to pay for full public health services, which would include either a full-time or part-time public health inspector. State licensed health inspectors are charged with inspecting food store establishments, which require an annual license renewal in order to operate.