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Grant to help Saratoga County establish full-service health department

The county seal at the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors chamber
Lucas Willard

Saratoga County is hoping to receive a grant in the upcoming New York State budget to help establish a full-service county health department.

Saratoga County is one the fastest-growing counties in the state, and with the most recent census, the county is approaching a quarter-million residents.

Because of that, the county is transitioning to a full-service Department of Health and more responsibilities are shifting from the state to the county.

Appearing alongside Saratoga County leaders in Ballston Spa Friday morning, New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Democrat from the 113th District, said she will secure state funding in the upcoming budget to assist the county in its transition.

“In this year’s budget, there’s $1.6 million to support Saratoga County’s transition to a full-service public health department,” said Woerner.

The financial assistance will benefit the county, in part, because there’s no instruction manual for how to build a county health department in 2023. Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett, a Republican, chairs the county board’s Health and Human Services committee.

“No county has done this in many, many years. So there’s no recent roadmap to get from where we are with our Department of Health to building out a full environmental health unit,” said Barrett.

Barrett said the department’s environmental health unit is offering one public service related to childhood lead poisoning prevention and aims to add more programs in the coming weeks.

“In April we will accept the following programs: the Clean Indoor Act enforcement; Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act and tobacco vendor compliance; and prevention and control of legionella,” said Barrett.

Saratoga County Health Commissioner Dr. Daniel Kuhles said the county aims to have its full-service health department and environmental health unit completely established by April of 2025.

The department will handle several additional services and perform regular inspections for businesses and other permitted entities.

Speaking with reporters, Kuhles detailed how the one-time grant funds will be used.

“A lot of that will be staffing, but there’s also equipment that will need to be purchased such a vehicles. It’s a large county and to do those inspections we’ll be using vehicles. Certainly, there’s IT infrastructure that will be needed, not just to give the inspector the computer or the laptop, but also that it interfaces with the state Health Department systems, and certainly training,” said Kuhles.

Dr. Ursula Bauer, Deputy Commissioner for Public Health at the New York State Department of Health, acknowledged the officials’ work in partnering with the state to ease the county’s transition.

“We do have a lot of work ahead of us to build on the amazing progress that we have made, and I am confident with the strong collaboration between the teams at the Saratoga and state health departments and the resources now on the table that we will move forward quickly,” said Bauer.

While the grant announced Friday is a one-time award, Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chair Todd Kusnierz said he hopes for more future state funding to offset new costs to the county in operating its full-service health department. Such departments are offered reimbursements through the state.

“You never know what the future holds, we’ll certainly be lobbying for that to happen, but the county in the end will be picking up a majority of the costs,” said Kusnierz.

After one-house budget bills were released this week, a final spending plan is due April 1st.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.