BY FREDA MIKLIN
On June 29, the new Arapahoe County Foundational Board of Health (BOH), chaired by Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) member Nancy Sharpe, unanimously appointed Jennifer Ludwig as the first executive director of the new Arapahoe County Public Health Department. She had been announced as the sole finalist for the position after the BOH interviewed her on June 15.
In a statement announcing her appointment, the county said, “In Ludwig, the BOH intentionally chose a public health director who is a skilled public manager with a depth of knowledge in overseeing large, complex operations and a history of transparency and fiscal responsibility.”
Ludwig has been in public health for 25 years, including 16 years in leadership positions. She most recently served as the deputy director of Tri-County Health Department (TCHD), overseeing day-to-day operations and directing a $60 million budget that included more than 60 programs and 400 employees in 11 facilities. She previously served as executive director of the Eagle County Public Health Department.
Upon her appointment, Ludwig said to the new BOH, “Hearing all of the amazing things that are happening in Arapahoe County, what is being planned, and the excitement and the support around public health…I’m excited to be coming on BOH. I look forward to engaging with all of you and working with all of you and your direction as we build this health department. Thank you for entrusting me to lead this new agency and to be a part of the team.”
Michele Halstead, director of the commissioners’ office, told the BOH that staff had begun exploring organizational and governance structure options, including assessing funding, staffing and infrastructure needs of the new health department. She reported that Penny Grande, currently TCHD nursing director, had been hired to serve as the Public Health Transition Administrator. She will function as the full-time public health subject matter expert, beginning this month.
Halstead provided the BOH with an initial list of necessary public health services that included public health nursing, immunizations, maternal child health, nutrition program for women, infants, and children, family planning, environmental health, and emergency preparedness.
When BOH member Bebe Kleinman asked about dental services for seniors, she was told that the BOCC has already committed to providing that service through Stride Health, which is currently seeking a location in Englewood to do so.
Ludwig presented an initial draft of an organizational chart for the new public health department that broke down services into two divisions, Consumer Protection and Community Health. The Consumer Protection division will include environmental health, emergency preparedness and communicable disease. The Community Health division will include a deputy director who oversees community health promotion, nursing and nutrition. It is expected that the department, including administration, will initially require 181 employees, about half of whom will be in the nursing area.
Ludwig told the BOH that letters of interest were sent to 121 employees of TCHD who had expressed interest in joining the new county health department. So as to encourage even more interest, all TCHD employees were sent a complimentary ticket to the Arapahoe County Fair being held July 28-31.
Todd Weaver, Arapahoe County director of finance, told the BOH that the county’s consultants had estimated it would cost $18 million annually to administer the new health department. Revenues will come from state and federal funds, fees and charges, grants and Medicaid. For the current fiscal year, Arapahoe County allocated $5.3 million for its share of TCHD employees. To support the new health department the BOCC has set aside an additional $1.5 million this year and $3 million in fiscal year 2023. The balance of the budget is expected to come from the other named revenue sources.
Resulting from the controversy around COVID-19 public health orders issued by TCHD during 2020 and 2021, Ludwig told the BOH that the staff had already conducted community engagement on the question of, “How important is it for a health department to engage the community before issuing an evidence-based public health order that has been recommended by experts and/or a medical officer?” The result, she reported, was that only 29% of respondents said it was important, 45% said it was not important, and 26% were neutral on the question.
Future meetings of the BOH, all of which are open to the public, will be held at 3:00 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month in the West Hearing Room of the Arapahoe County Administration Building at 5334 S. Prince Street in Littleton.