Home Health Johnnie St. Vrain: Where did Boulder County’s Board of Health get its power?

Johnnie St. Vrain: Where did Boulder County’s Board of Health get its power?

Johnnie St. Vrain: Where did Boulder County’s Board of Health get its power?


Dear Johnnie: We have been following the rules enacted by the BCPH board for almost two years during the pandemic.  One person on the board is an MD, the rest have diverse backgrounds that don’t necessarily make them public health experts. My question is twofold:

1. How are BCPH board members put in place? Are they appointed? If so, by whom?

2. How is the power of BCPH established, and who has the power to restrict the BCPH board or dissolve it entirely?

Thanks. — Done With BCPH

Dear Done: I’m not an expert on public health experts, but I can answer your questions.

The five members of the Boulder County Board of Health are appointed by the Boulder County commissioners and serve five-year, staggered terms, per state law.

Boards of health in Colorado, in their current forms, were established by the Colorado Public Health Act of 2008, which was signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter.

According to Section 25-1-508, “the respective board of county commissioners shall proceed to organize the agency by the appointment of a county or district board of health, referred to in this part 5 as a ‘county or district board.’ ”

As for the qualifications of board members, here’s what 25-1-508 says:

“Each member of the county board of health shall be a resident of the county in which the county agency is located. Appointments shall be made to the board so that no business or professional group or governmental entity shall constitute a majority of the board.”

As for the powers and duties, according to the state, a county health board exists:

  • “to develop and promote the public policies needed to secure the conditions necessary for a healthy community.”
  • “to approve  the local public health plan completed by the county or district agency, and to submit the local plan to the state board for review.”
  • “to select a public health director to serve at the pleasure of the county or district board.”

As prescribed by state law, the health director may be a physician, physician assistant, public health nurse, or other qualified public health professional.

“The qualifications shall reflect the resources and needs of the county or counties covered by the agency,” the law states. “If the public health director is not a physician, the county or district board shall employ or contract with at least one medical officer to advise the public health director on medical decisions.”

I think of a board of health as being somewhat like a city council or a school board, although a board of health isn’t an elected body. Members of city councils and school boards don’t all have to be experts in public administration or education. Their job is to oversee the organization so that the will of the people is enacted, and they hire the experts in those fields.

Boulder County Board of Health responsibilities “include assuring appropriate policy for BCPH, hiring and supervising the Boulder County public health director, approving the department’s budget, and providing oversight of department operations,” according to the board’s website.

The Boulder County Board of Health meets at 5:30 p.m. the second Monday of each month, and its meetings are open to the public, so you can speak with board members directly, just as you can speak to the county commissioners who appointed them.

Multiple counties can share a single board of health. Therefore a board could be “dissolved” if member counties no longer want to share a health department  That is happening with the Tri-County Health Department. However, each county then would have to create its own health department, according to the law.

Ultimately it is the state, which created boards of health, that would have the authority to dissolve them altogether.

Send questions to johnnie@times-call.com.


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