HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES COMMITTEE
Ottawa County Health Department recognized by NACCHO—the organization that Congress is investigating for involvement in harmful CDC Covid-19 school recommendations
Published April 24, 2023
Written by Adams
Photography by Simply American
“First of all, I would say your awards are great in many respects. It definitely shows hard work and effort, and much of what is done there is great,” Board of Commissioners Vice-Chairperson Sylvia Rhodea said. “I do get concerned when I look at some of their policies and so I’m hopeful that we can have independent thought that goes on on a local level.”
Recently, the Ottawa County Health Department received an award from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). NACCHO is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
On March 16, 2023, NACCHO announced eight agencies from across the United States have been recognized by NACCHO’s Project Public Health Ready (PPHR) for their ability to plan for, respond to, and recover from public health emergencies.
According to their website, PPHR is a criteria-based training and recognition program created by NACCHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help local health departments develop core public health and emergency preparedness competencies. This intensive, 18-month program provides local health departments the structure to build training and preparedness capacity using a continuous quality improvement model.
The PPHR Process Guide reveals the cost for first time applicants to the program to be $5,000, and application for re-recognition comes with a fee of $2,500. Upon completion of the review process, NACCHO provides a recognition letter, a press release template, and an invitation to a reception at its annual Preparedness Summit where participants are “honored and awarded a plaque.” Recognition status is maintained for five years. Ottawa County first obtained recognition status in 2018.
The April meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee started with 7 public comments recognizing the Ottawa County Health Department for the NACCHO and a state level award, and then moved on to Interim Health Officer Adeline Hambley’s Health Department update.
Hambley reported on the status of the accreditation process and the County Health Rankings. Ottawa County ranked #3 of 83 counties in 2023. Hambley highlighted that this was the second time Ottawa County was lower than #2, however Ottawa is the only county in Michigan that has ranked in the top 5 every year since the ranking was implemented.
Hambley gave a few footnotes from the report. Air quality is a challenge for Ottawa as air from Chicago impacts us, making it very hard for Ottawa County to address this issue.
The ranking website also stated Ottawa’s ratio of residents to dentist, mental health providers, and primary care physicians was worse than the top counties and Michigan as a whole. But for context, this matrix did not include physician assistants, nurse practitioners, or other providers. It also didn’t account for primary care providers who work in multiple counties, or the shared health infrastructure with Kent County.
After the report, Commissioners Doug Zylstra and Jacob Bonnema joined in congratulating Hambley and the Health Department for their awards.
Hambley explained that the NACCHO award was not only specific to Covid and getting the award is a 3-4 year process. Hambley handed the podium over to Dr. Gwen Unzicker who covered stomach illnesses, and encouraged all repeatedly to wash their hands. Hambley rejoined her colleague at the podium when the topic changed to ticks, after which discussion returned to the Health Department’s recognition by NACCHO.
Influence Of National And State Non-Profit Network
“Looking back,” Rhodea said, “I see that Ottawa County has actually received a number of awards from NACCHO.” She cited 3 awards since 2018, as well as involvement in a NACCHO training video for Covid-19 clinics in 2020. “It appears our relationship with NACCHO goes quite a ways back. NACCHO has a state branch which is Michigan Association of Local Public Health (MALPH). We are a member of MALPH, with all the counties in the state of Michigan.
“So can you just explain to us kind of what that relationship is like? What benefits do we get from being a member?” Rhodea continued, “What kind of things do we do with each other?”
Hambley affirmed Ottawa County does participate with both organizations and that NACHHO is a connecting branch for federal and private agencies. She indicated counties and cities can share with each other, with cities being included as other states have city health departments.
In regards to the 2022 award, Hambley explained, “Each year you can submit to this model practice award and then they have a whole committee from public health from nationwide that will review that. And if they feel like it’s valuable to other health agencies, they give you a whole criteria how to judge it.” Ottawa County received the Model and Promising Practice Award in 2022 for the initiative, Partnering for Success, Outreach to Achieve Health Equity.
Hambley continued, “Most helpful is definitely the shared practice between. So if the drive thru clinic… there are small cities that have populations of 30,000 and 10 employees or whatever. They need to do this but they don’t have the resources to determine how to, or they don’t have like we have with our sheriff’s office.”
NACCHO offers a lot of training, including national conferences such as the one for preparedness response for public health and various situations.
As members of NACCHO’s state branch MALPH, Hambley explained that all the health officers from around the state meet monthly and talk about things that impact the counties. They also discuss pending legislation. MALPH provides forums for the environmental health directors, medical directors, and finance personnel to meet.
Following Hambley’s description of the integration of Michigan’s local health departments statewide in the training, leadership, and coordination of efforts through NACCHO and MALPH, Rhodea affirmed the effort indicated by the awards earned.
Can We Think Independently When Tied To A Non-Profit’s Policies?
Rhodea went on to address several of NACCHO’s policies. “I do get concerned when I look at some of their policies and so I am hopeful that we have independent thought that goes on at a local level.”
“One of their policies is on school and childcare immunization requirements. NACCHO supports requirements that allow only medical exemptions due to allergy or medical contraindication,” Rhodea said. “They advocate for policies that reduce or eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions.”
“They want mandatory education sessions and, as you know, right now that is a requirement through administrator rule. But I would note that Ottawa County actually implemented that on a county level before it was even an administrative rule, and it was adding to the burden of law.”
“And so I believe there might be some times when we’re perhaps following some policy that’s not appropriate. We do need to be watchful of those things.”
Rhodea continued, “They want to educate providers, parents and adolescents regarding minor consent laws that enable mature adolescents under the age of 18 to make informed decisions regarding their healthcare.”
“They advocate for comprehensive sexuality education, and that’s radical sex ed that is being pushed into our schools,” Rhodea explained. “I know from personal experience, here in our county, that our Health Department has been involved in advocating for that within our local school districts. Again, it makes me wonder if that comes from alignment with NACCHO.”
Additional policies Rhodea noted were:
Health Equity & Social Justice Policy
Climate Change Policy
Police Violence & Racism Policy
Rhodea ended her comments with, “I would just encourage that we be careful about the training and alignment that we do with them. That we’re still thinking independently and consistent with the values of our community.”
“I do appreciate the recognition of the efforts that have been put in by our emergency preparedness team and the Health Department. But I think that we do need to be careful when we’re working on issues like Covid, which my understanding is part of the award, so that we’re not overstepping. It’s definitely the opinion of many in our county there has been overstepping over the last couple years.”
Board of Commissioners Chairperson Joe Moss had one more piece of information to add about NACCHO. As of March 28, 2023, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic in Washington DC sent a letter to the CEO of NACCHO. The committee is investigating the CDC and 14 other entities, including NACCHO, for their potential political involvement in revising and editing the “Operational Strategy” of reopening schools. The committee is concerned about the potential for undue influence of non-governmental groups, including NACCHO, on CDC scientific guidance, and the negative impacts of the CDC’s school reopening policy on America’s children in relation to learning loss, mental illness, and physical health.
Moss read the letter and submitted it for official record.
Are organizations and non-profits training, directing, and organizing Michigan’s health departments—and then awarding them for following their lead? Who is truly setting policy in Ottawa, Michigan’s most conservative county? Does Ottawa County have local control and thought leadership, or is NACCHO—a CDC and Big Pharma partner—directing states and local health departments from Washington, D.C.?
For the first time in a long time, we have a board in Ottawa County that is asking the hard questions.