Commissioners delay vote on health department contract

Published 5:31 pm Friday, March 30, 2007

By Staff
Revisit illegal-immigrant issue
News Editor
What was to be Beaufort County commissioners’ consideration of the contract between the state and the Beaufort County Health Department Thursday night became instead a discussion about health care for illegal immigrants and a quest for numbers.
That contract outlines responsibilities of the state and the duties of the local health department for the upcoming fiscal year. The contract would take effect July 1. It must be approved at the local level by the end of April.
But soon thereafter, discussion turned to what County Manager Paul Spruill termed “the hot-button issue that (commissioners) revisit every 60 days or so.” Commissioner Hood Richardson wanted to know whether language translation had to be provided for people who cannot speak English but come to the health department for services.
Not all programs the department administers are federal in nature, however, she said. The environmental-health program, which enforces sanitation regulations for the county and state, is funded by those two levels of government.
Spruill said he thinks the state contract “backs you up on that” as long as the fees are not excessive.
Commissioner Al Klemm wanted to see some numbers before he voted on the state contract. Those numbers included, but weren’t limited to, statistics about Hispanics served.
Holloman said about 25 percent of the health department’s patients are Hispanic, according to the figures from the previous, not current, fiscal year. Holloman said she could not know how many of those patients were illegal immigrants because the law prohibits public-health officials from asking such questions.
Commissioner Stan Deatherage said commissioners need to consider what policies they can enact on a local level when it comes to providing government services to illegal immigrants. He said officials at the state and federal levels have not been responsive when it comes to addressing the illegal-immigrants issue.
Commissioner Robert Cayton said he had always found state officials to be “100 percent responsive” to any of his requests. Secondly, Cayton, the county’s representative on the health board, said he was prepared to vote to approve the contract and made a motion to that effect. Commissioner Ed Booth seconded that motion.
Richardson then made a motion to table the contract. Deatherage seconded the motion.
Along with Richardson and Deatherage, Klemm and commissioners’ Chairman Jay McRoy voted to table the contract.
Additional budgetary figures from the health department will be presented to commissioners by April 12.