MASSILLON – Gina Durst has utilized medical services at the Massillon Health Department for as long as she can remember.
Durst, 52, was among the approximately 130 people who took advantage of a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Wednesday at the health agency, which is located inside the St. James AME Zion Church and not far from her city home.
“I’ve always used it, and my family has, too,” said Durst, who on numerous occasions has received medical vaccinations and attained medical records from health professionals at the department.
The days of many municipal health facilities in Ohio — including Massillon — may be numbered, as the state Legislature considers a proposal to reduce the amount of smaller departments statewide and have them merge with county agencies.
Durst said that idea doesn’t fly with her.
“That would be hard on me and everyone who lives around here,” she said. “They really help you out (in Massillon).”
In April, the Ohio House passed House Bill 110, a two-year, $74 billion state budget plan. The legislation contains language that would require health jurisdictions with populations of less than 50,000 to conduct studies proving it would not be financially feasible for them to consolidate with other departments.
Massillon has about 32,400 residents.
Massillon Health Director Terri Argent said her office is already taking part in an accreditation standard exam, which should suffice for the state-required study.
On April 20, City Council unanimously passed a resolution that opposes state HB 110.
Massillon’s case for staying independent
The city Health Department serves up to 500 people a week by assisting clients who schedule appointments with staff nurses. Department officials also conduct restaurant health inspections, administer vaccines and provide medical records, Argent said.
Other duties include issuing birth and death certificates, providing nutrition services and children vaccines, so youths can attend public school.
Since December 2020, agency nurses have administered COVID-19 vaccines to nearly 5,000 people, mainly city residents, Argent said. School teachers and staff, as well as safety forces personnel, are part of the total.
“With a small staff, things like a pandemic can hit us pretty hard,” Argent said while praising her team that consists of eight full-time and two part-time workers. “Getting everyone a vaccine is a challenge that we’re up for.”
Programs in jeopardy?
If the Massillon Health Department, 111 Tremont Ave. SW, were to close or consolidate with Stark County, myriad specialty services for city residents would likely cease or be scaled back, Argent said.
Some benefits provided for Massillon kids are meals at Christmastime; backpacks, food and school supply programs for kids of needy families; and free car seat and baby crib initiatives for less fortunate parents or families.
“I think the community here would miss our personal touch (if we moved),” said Argent who’s served as health director since 2005. “We know many of our clients by their first names.”
If a major change is coming, birth and death record certificates would have to be issued via the Stark County Heath Department. And getting to the county facility may be troublesome for a large number of city residents, Argent said.
“A lot of our patients walk over here,” she said. “They would have to find a way over to North Canton. That’s not always easy.”
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