Schenectady County

Health offices face trim in Schenectady County budget

Schenectady County’s budget crunch could mean a restructuring of its Health Department and the retur

Schenectady County’s budget crunch could mean a restructuring of its Health Department and the return of its former commissioner as a part-time professional contractor.

The commissioner’s position and the patient services position would both be eliminated; those positions represent $311,917 in salaries.

Under the county’s proposed 2013 budget, Dr. David Pratt, who was commissioner, would return to the department as a medical director earning a salary of $65,000 annually with no benefits. Pratt, who left in January for a job with Novartis Vaccines in Cambridge, Mass., would serve a part-time advisory role under the newly established position of public health director.

Joanne Cocazzoli, who now serves as the director of Prevention and Patient Services, would be named to the new administrative position paying an annual salary of $92,000 with benefits; that role replaces the commissioner.

The county projects a savings from these changes of $113,517.

County Manager Kathleen Rooney said the health department was originally organized under a director when it was established during the early 1990s. She said the change back to the director’s form of administration wouldn’t change much with the department given the scope of its operations,

“We think this model will work well,” she told county legislators during their first of five budget review sessions Tuesday evening. “It does bring a savings with it.”

Rooney said county officials reached out to Pratt after deciding to budget the change. She said Pratt would work up to 15 hours per week, but would make himself available for a longer duration in the event of a public health crisis or outbreak.

Unlike a public health director, a commissioner must be a licensed physician. But with the county doing far less direct care, Rooney said it doesn’t seem as critical to have a doctor heading the department.

“With us not doing as much direct care, [the change] merges the needs and the makeup of the organization,” she said.

The health commissioner’s salary was $135,000 per year. Stephanie Scuderi was filling the position on an interim basis until she retired last week.

Pratt began working for the county in August 2009 and was instrumental in waging a public awareness campaign during the outbreak of the H1N1 virus. He was also instrumental in securing several grants for the county, including one to help study the high rate of diabetes among the West Indian community.

The changes to the health department are outlined in the $296 million spending plan proposed by Rooney Monday. The budget carries a tax levy increase of 7.49 percent that required county legislators to override the state-imposed tax cap earlier this week. Individual town property tax rates have not yet been established.

Legislators spent nearly three hours sifting through the roughly 300-page budget Tuesday evening. The line-by-line analysis, however, didn’t yield any additional savings.

The Legislature is expected to pick up its review of the budget at 6 p.m. today. An additional review is slated for Thursday.

Also under the proposed budget, the county would also eliminate its operation of clinics. These services would become a public and private partnership, where a pair of area health services would deliver treatment, while the county would serve an administrative function.

Under this system, Ellis Hospital and Hometown Health Center would host the tuberculosis, sexually transmitted disease and child immunization clinics now delivered by the county. Meanwhile, the county would assume an outreach, education and follow-up role for the service.

“It does lend itself to a nice partnership,” Rooney said following the meeting.

Rooney said the clinics aren’t well-utilized and now cost about $384,000 to support. Under the new arrangement, the county would pay $138,000 in professional services.

“For the magnitude of clients we are having, we thought it was worth it to look into other models,” she said.

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