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District delays restructuring decision

A decision expected Thursday about whether to restructure the Spokane Regional Health District has been postponed for at least two weeks.

Too many board members will be absent from the scheduled monthly meeting to allow full consideration of whether to divide the health officer’s current duties into two posts, member David Crump said Monday.

Instead, members who are present will hear only an update from the ad-hoc committee assigned to research the issue.

In January, Mary Verner, the board’s chairwoman, said she hoped to have the question of structure resolved by February and the position advertised by March.

Crump acknowledged that the process is taking longer than anticipated, but said it’s important to do a thorough review.

“I think you need to keep up a constant pace, but if it takes us an extra two weeks, that’s time well-spent,” he said.

The health district decided to reconsider the structure of the agency after firing former health officer Dr. Kim Thorburn last fall.

At issue is whether the health officer, who is required by state statute to be a medical doctor, also should be the agency’s chief administrator.

Board members have asked managers, staff and community members to consider three options. Under the current structure, the administrator reports to the health officer, who reports to the board. Under another option, the health officer would report to the administrator. A third option would split the post into two equally powerful full-time positions. Thorburn earned $125,000 a year when she held the post.

After meetings with community members, the ad-hoc committee likely will recommend eliminating the option that leaves the administrator in charge, said board member Brad Stark.

Once the structure is decided, board members will advertise the post. The board has not agreed whether to limit the search to local or regional candidates or whether to advertise nationally, although Crump said he favors seeking a deep pool of applicants. “I think you need to do a broad sweep nationwide,” he said.

Whatever the board decides, the search may take several months, based on the experience of other health departments and districts in Washington, Crump said.

In the meantime, Dr. Larry Jecha, health officer for the Benton-Franklin Health District, is serving as interim health officer in Spokane.

“All I’ve heard is that things are going very well,” Crump said.

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