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Health heads weigh pros, cons of merger

April 15, 2009

The directors of both health departments serving the North Shore see some advantages to a merger - if it is done right.

The Glendale city administrator and six North Shore village managers are evaluating a feasibility report on consolidating the North Shore and Shorewood health departments.

The North Shore department is located in Brown Deer and serves Brown Deer, Bayside, Fox Point, Glendale and River Hills. The Shorewood department serves Shorewood and Whitefish Bay.

Mary Jo Van Gompel, who is the wife of Brown Deer Village Manager Russ Van Gompel, did the report as a capstone project to obtain a master's degree in project management from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

She estimates consolidation could save taxpayers between $8,935 and $62,720 annually, mainly in pay and benefits.

Cost-saving options

The study provides four consolidation options.

The first would move both department to a third centrally located site; it would save taxpayers $8,935 annually.

Moving the Shorewood department to the Brown Deer location would more than double the savings to $20,219.

For a savings similar to the second option, $29,316, the departments could consolidate but maintain two locations.

Moving the Shorewood department to Brown Deer and leaving Whitefish Bay to make other arrangements for health services would save the most - $62,720.

Staffing, location

Cindy Tomasello, director of the Shorewood department, said there are advantages to merging, but probably not as many as some might hope.

Cutting staff would be unlikely, she said.

"Shorewood is the worst staffed health department in the state for the population served," she said.

The department is comprised of Tomasello, a part-time nurse and an administrative assistant, she said.

A combined department should have between 12 and 16 people for a population the size of the North Shore, she said, based on standards recommended by the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

The consolidated department would have eight employees, at most, according to the report, she said.

To her, closing the Shorewood location in favor of doing everything from Brown Deer is not an option.

"One thing I'm adamant about is that there has to be some presence here because there is no bus service to Brown Deer," Tomasello said.

However, Tomasello said merging would give more flexibility to deal with the unexpected.

"The more bodies you have, the more flexibility you have to cover things," she said.

A larger staff also would help win accreditation, she said.

Standardization

Jane Peterson, director of the North Shore department, said combining would clear up confusion over which department serves what communities. The handling of some environmental health issues would be more standardized, she said.

But as to any savings, she said, "That's hard to say. It might be modest and maybe over a period of time."

Jane Ford-Stewart can be reached at (262) 446-6607.

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