The Fulton County Board of Health is planning to transition into a Georgia entity as part of a state mandate dating back to 2016.
House Bill 885, which was approved by the state Legislature in April of that year, repeals an existing law that created boards of health in all 159 Georgia counties. It calls for each county’s board of health to transfer into a state body instead. Fulton’s board of health is making that transition but first wanted to ensure its staff would not lose anything in the process.
“All staff with the board of health will be accepted by the state, at their salaries, with no loss of salaries, with the same job titles and same benefits,” Robb Pitts, the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ chair, said at the Dec. 16 recess meeting, adding some county facilities may also transfer to state use as part of the transition.
As part of the transition, Fulton will pay board of health employees $2 million a year total to ensure their pay and benefits, once funded by the state, would remain the same since the state pays less.
But after several months of delaying voting on a resolution supporting the transition, it was approved 4-2 by the board at its Jan. 20 recess meeting, with Pitts and Commissioners Liz Hausman, Bob Ellis and Lee Morris (Districts 1-3) voting yes, Commissioners Natalie Hall and Marvin Arrington Jr. (Districts 4 and 5) dissenting and District 6 Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman abstaining. The meeting was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The transition vote came after Morris motioned to amend the legislation to allow for all Fulton Board of Health employees to get credit for sick leave if they had accrued one to two weeks. That amendment, which required a separate vote, also was approved 4-2, with the commissioners voting the same way as they did on the transition item.
The transition vote comes after the board failed, by a 4-3 count against, to approve the transition at its Dec. 16 meeting. It had been held by the board since its Sept. 2 meeting.
Before and after the September vote to hold the resolution, board of health employees and others commented at nearly every meeting to say they disagreed with the county’s plan for the transfer.
“I’m disappointed the commissioners are considering the board of health transition,” Alice Samuels of Atlanta said at the Dec. 16 meeting.
Those commenting were upset with the lack of information Fulton was providing to workers. Hall said she’s received over 100 emails, texts and other messages from board of health employees and their friends and family members saying there was no communication between the county and the board of health’s workers about its transfer to the state.
Dr. Lynn Paxton, Fulton’s district health director and one of the board of health’s leaders, said the employees were “really seeking certainty about their future” amid the transition. Some of the issues brought up at the Dec. 16 meeting were rehashed by commissioners at the Jan. 20 meeting before they voted.
“I’m not going to be able to support this,” Arrington said. “Commissioner Hall is right. We have been told all these different things: ‘This (transition) must happen. This is going to go through.’ Maybe it will, but I’m not going to vote for it. … This will cause us to pay $2 million more because the state won’t make up for the difference. … This is absolutely wasteful.”
Hausmann said at one time she felt the timing of the transition vote was not right because of the pandemic but has since changed her mind.
“But over the past few weeks I’ve talked to some board of health leaders and Dr. (Kathleen) Toomey,” she said, referring to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s commissioner. “It seems if we’re going to do it, we should do it now. (But) my concerns about Fulton County’s responsiveness, if we make this change, remain.”