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Health and Medicine

Oregon County Turns Public Health Function Over To State

Counties across the Northwest that are heavily dependent on timber revenue from federal lands have been struggling to provide public health services.

Now, one county in Oregon has told the state it will no longer provide those services. That's left state officials scrambling to figure out how to cover the gap.

Douglas County spans more than 5,000 square miles from the Cascades to the coast in southwest Oregon. Its leaders have informed the state that as of this fall, the county will no longer provide a wide range of basic public health services such as communicable disease investigations, STD testing, and maternity care for low-income women.

It's the first time a county in Oregon has turned these responsibilities over to state government. Eric Schmidt of the Association of Oregon Counties said it might not be the last, either.

"The fiscal stresses that counties have faced for the past ten years have generated a lot of creative thinking about the kinds of services that counties provide," he said.

Schmidt said those fiscal stresses are caused in part by diminishing timber revenues over the past few years.

The Oregon Health Authority is working on a plan to figure out how to provide public health services to Douglas County residents -- and how to pay for it.