Commissioners Get Public Health Update

Also, Washtenaw gets federal grant targeting meth trafficking
Commissioners each received a Red Cross personal safety kit at Wednesdays meeting.

Commissioners each received a Red Cross personal safety kit at Wednesday's meeting.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (May 6, 2009): At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners got an update on how the county is responding to the swine flu threat, plus a bonus: Every commissioner was presented with a Red Cross personal safety kit. The implicit message was  that the county is prepared for emergencies, be it virulent viruses or something else entirely. Dick Fleece, interim director of the county’s public health department, assured commissioners that funding for the kits came from the feds, not the county’s general fund budget.

Commissioners also discussed a federal grant aimed at helping track purchases of pseudoephedrine.

Meth Tracking System

The county is the fiduciary for a $218,000 federal grant that will help pay for a computer system that tracks the purchase of pseudophedrine from large drugstore chains as well as small pharmacies. It’s a Michigan State Police COPS-Meth grant for the Michigan High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, known as HIDTA, which includes Washtenaw County but operates out of Detroit. Pseudophedrine is taken as a decongestant and contained in over-the-counter products like Sudafed, but it can also be used to make methamphetamine, an illegal drug.

Commissioner Jeff Irwin asked what information would be collected for this database, and how will that information be used by law enforcement. Kari Dorr, from the county prosecutor’s office, said that pharmacists currently are required to check the driver’s license for anyone who buys products like Sudafed, and that you have to sign for such purchases. If someone  who has a history of using meth buys the drug, the database will flag it, she said. Likewise if someone is buying large quantities, perhaps from different pharmacies. That kind of information would be shared with law enforcement officials statewide. Steve Hiller, deputy chief assistant prosecuting attorney, said the same information is already being collected – this system is just a conduit to get the information into a central database.

Irwin said he was skeptical about the accuracy of the front-end data. If he were a criminal, he said, he wouldn’t be using his own ID to buy drugs. He said it looks like the feds are spending a mountain of money nationwide that would be better used elsewhere. Hiller noted that state police troops are being cut in Michigan, and that this kind of data collection and information sharing is helpful as fewer resources will be available for law enforcement.

Commissioner Ken Schwartz asked Hiller if meth trafficking was a problem in Washtenaw County. Hiller said they do see meth on the streets quite often, but that Washtenaw County is a little less affected by it than neighboring counties.

Outcome: Commissioners approved the grant in their Ways & Means Committee meeting. It will be forwarded for action at the regular board meeting on May 20.

The Flu Formerly Known as Swine

Stating that “it’s been quite a week,” Diana Torres-Burgos, the county’s medical director, gave commissioners an update on the H1N1 flu virus. As of Wednesday, May 6, there were no confirmed cases in Washtenaw County, she said, and only four probable cases – two residents, and two nonresidents who attend school in the county. [As of May 9, there were nine confirmed cases in Washtenaw County. This report from the state is updated daily at 4:30 p.m.]

Torres-Burgos noted that this is something health care workers deal with every year – seasonal flu typically results in 30,000 to 40,000 deaths a year, nationwide. There was reason for concern because it was a new strain, which means there’s no immunity against it, she said, and it wasn’t clear whether it would be more virulent than seasonal flu. They’ll continue to monitor the situation to see if the virus mutates into something stronger, but at this point, normal precautions – like washing your hands regularly, not touching your mouth nose or eyes and staying home if you feel sick – are sufficient.

Cindra James, the county’s public health emergency preparedness coordinator, described the protocol for dealing with outbreaks like this. She said they have sufficient quantities of the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza, and that they would not open a central dispensing site unless demand escalated.

Torres-Burgos said that communications had been challenging, particularly in keeping up with demands of the media. The county was in daily contact with local hospitals, communicated regularly with schools and kept its website updated. She said that earlier guidelines had recommended schools be closed if they had probable cases – that’s what happened at Father Gabriel Richard High School, she said. The county contacted the school principal and recommended that the school be closed last week because two students had probable cases. The county also called for a community-wide meeting of schools, Torres-Burgos said, noting that it was a very fluid situation. Soon after, the Centers for Disease Control and state public health officials issued new guidelines saying that schools did not need to close, and so Gabriel Richard reopened on Wednesday with the caveat to be vigilant, she said.

As part of their presentation, Torres-Burgos and James gave each commissioner a Red Cross Deluxe Personal Safety Kit. Here’s a sampling of what it contains, according to its label: Gloves, mask, light stick, whistle, a 4.5 oz. pouch of drinking water, hand warmers, hand sanitizer, first aid supplies, poncho and emergency blanket.

Public Hearing

The board held a public hearing about the one-year action plan for the Washtenaw Urban County group, an entity chaired by commissioner Leah Gunn and consisting of representatives from 11 local jurisdictions: the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor Township, Bridgewater Township, Northfield Township, Pittsfield Township, Salem Township, Scio Township, Superior Township, York Township, and Ypsilanti Township. The group is a conduit for federal grants to fund affordable housing and community development projects.

Only one person – Thomas Partridge – spoke at the hearing. He said not enough is being done to provide affordable housing in Washtenaw County. He urged commissioners to establish an affordable housing commission and to provide more funding for affordable housing.


Mark Ouimet, board co-chair who was leading the meeting in the absence of the chair, Rolland Sizemore Jr., gave two presentations. He presented a proclamation to Washtenaw County Sheriff’s commander Dieter Heren declaring the week of May 10-16, 2009 as Police and Correction Officers Week, and designating May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day in Washtenaw County. The week is intended to honor those in law enforcement who have been injured or killed in the line of duty.

Ouimet also presented Rich Sheridan with a resolution congratulating Menlo Innovations, an Ann Arbor firm, for being named to the Worldblu List of most democratic workplaces. Sheridan is Menlo’s CEO. Ouimet, a Republican, said he felt like he’d been set up in making the presentation. Sheridan promised that next year they’d try to be named the most republican workplace.

Commissioner Barbara Levin Bergman presented a resolution honoring the Area Agency on Aging 1-B for its 35-year anniversary. Tina Abbate Marzolf, the group’s CEO, thanked the commission and showed them an original letter that the agency had written to the board in 1974 asking for funding. At that time, they received $348,000 – today, she said, the agency gets more than $5 million in state and federal funds to support services for seniors. In response to a question, Marzolf said that they were trying to work more collaboratively with veterans groups, and that she’d be happy to return to the commission with details about that project.

Public Comment

Two people spoke during the four public comment sessions Wednesday evening. Tom Partridge spoke at all four opportunities for public comment, calling for action to protect the county’s homeless and vulnerable populations. Roberta Asplund, a former public health nurse, said she was a member of the  Michigan Public Health Association and past chair of its nursing section. She said the group was trying to make legislators more aware of the importance of public health nurses, and urged commissioners to provide more funding for public health nurses at the local level. She said school nurses were important as well, and that coordinating between the schools and the county public health nursing staff was crucial.

The board ended its meeting by going into closed executive session to discuss labor relations.

Present: Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn, Jeff Irwin, Kristin Judge, Mark Ouimet, Jessica Ping, Wes Prater, Ken Schwartz, Conan Smith

Absent: Rolland Sizemore Jr., Ronnie Peterson

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, May 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the County Administration Building, 220 N. Main St. The Ways & Means Committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting.  (Though the agenda states that the regular board meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., it usually starts much later – times vary depending on what’s on the agenda.) Public comment sessions are held at the beginning and end of each meeting. [confirm date]