SJC County Commissioners Discuss Health Department Funding, Portage Manor

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) – Community leaders and residents are concerned about funding for the St. Joseph County Health Department.

It comes a day after activists at an NAACP town hall called it a “war on public health.”

Many people who attended Monday night’s NAACP panel were also in attendance Tuesday morning, unsettled by the looming deadline to approve $1 million in CDC federal funding for Year 3 to the Department.

It’s also possible to get an additional $250,000 in federal funds, but only if the $1 million grant is used.

The Department had received prior approval from county officials to request and receive the first two years of CDC COVID-19 relief funds.

But now community organizations, including the NAACP, are criticizing St. Joseph County elected officials for not properly approving CDC funds. The groups say county commissioners and some county council members are creating barriers and using stall tactics to prohibit the department from getting these funds from the CDC, which will provide health services to underserved and minority communities.

Department officials say the funds would help St. Joseph County residents access care, resources, and know that programs exist, since many residents are unaware of these programs. The funds could also provide car trips to access health care, lead tests and vaccines.

However, at a meeting today, the commissioners said no final decision had been made on those funds.

“We haven’t turned down any grant applications as far as I know, at least since I’ve been on the commission,” said Carl Baxmeyer (R), chairman of the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners. “We filed the third phase of the CDC grant, and that was just to enable. We have a new health officer, Dr. Cerbin. We’ve already set up a meeting with him, just to get his opinion, and we’ll go ahead with that immediately after that meeting.

This is not the first time that problems have surrounded the Department’s funding. In 2021, county commissioners vetoed $3 million in federal grants that would have funded up to eight additional community health workers. However, the county council eventually overruled the veto.

The commissioners plan to meet with the new St. Joseph County health officer, Dr. Joseph Cerbin, regarding the CDC grant later this month.

St. Joseph County Board of Health member Heidi Beidinger released a statement after Tuesday’s meeting, saying:

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County Commissioner Deb Flemming is also stepping down from 3 different positions on the Board of Directors until further notice.

These board members oversee MACOG (Michiana Area Council of Governments), Child Protective Services, and Portage Manor.

The Portage Mansion saga continues as the Exploratory Committee continues its efforts to save the care facility.

The exploratory committee provided an update on the commissioners’ progress at Tuesday morning’s meeting.

As WNDU previously reported, the county council voted to defer the vote on closing Portage Manor for 60 days, giving exploratory subcommittees a brief window of time to come up with solutions.

Committee members and leaders from the Indiana Landmarks Foundation have visited the facility over the past week to get a first-hand view of the improvements to be made.

The advocacy subcommittee met last Tuesday to draft a community-wide petition asking for additional funding from the state legislature.

The county board is also asking the state legislature to increase capital funding for day-to-day operations.

“We also met in the evening of that day, the county council, and we discussed the matter informally, and we believe that there is unanimous support for the county council to do the same thing, but we don’t meet until April 11,” says Mark A. Catanzarite (D), SJC County Council member for District G. “So in doing so, we’ve drafted a resolution like yours that asks the State Legislature to increase our capital funding and other funding for Portage Manor.”

The exploratory committee has until mid-May to come up with viable solutions, but they tell 16 News Now they aim to be ready to present in the first week of May.

During the meeting, Advisor Catanzarite mentioned that there is currently an issue with the generator power transfer switch, and they are working on finding parts that are secure to resolve this issue quickly.

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