Skip to main content

Douglas County votes to form its own public health department

Email share
From left, Douglas County commissioners George Teal, Lora Thomas and Abe Laydon.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. Douglas County commissioners have unanimously voted to form their own health department and board of health, formally splitting from the Tri-County Health Department. 

The move, in a work session Wednesday comes just a few days after Tri-County Health's board voted to no longer allow counties to opt out of COVID-19 public health orders and enacted a mask mandate for all students and staff in school settings.

The agency administers public health programs in Douglas as well as Arapahoe and Adams counties.

The county will now have 90 days to form its own board of health. That board will then select an executive director for the county’s health department, according to the county attorney.

Commissioner Abe Laydon also moved that county staff issue a statement informing the public on the decision to form a new health department and also asserting that, according to their interpretation, “the unilateral mask order on Monday is not enforceable,” he said.

Normally, counties are required to give the health department one year’s notice before they leave, but during the work session, County Attorney Lance Ingalls explained that he believes there is a strong legal argument for why that’s not needed this time.

Ingalls said that because Tri-County had recently voted to rescind the opt-out option — a negotiated agreement between the two entities — an earlier notification of withdrawal from the county, in July of 2020, was still intact.

The county has already paid for services from Tri-County for the rest of the year and plans to continue receiving those services, just with a Douglas County-specific board of health in charge of governance, officials said.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began early last year, Douglas County's elected leaders have frequently expressed displeasure with Tri-County over its pandemic-safety policies, and have discussed standing up its own agency.

In July 2020, Douglas County commissioners announced they would eventually leave Tri-County, citing a wish for more local control over public health orders.

But last November, the commissioners walked the decision back and agreed to stay with the health department until at least 2023. As part of that agreement, however, the commissioners were assured they would be able to opt out of any public health order.

After Tri-County enacted a mask mandate for students ages 2 to 11 and any staff that work with them last week, Douglas and Adams counties’ commissioners both voted to opt out of the order. Arapahoe County commissioners were also planning to discuss a possible opt out, but then the health board voted Aug. 30 to no longer allow opt outs.

Opting out would have left the decision of whether to enforce the Tri-County school mask order up to school districts in the agency's three-county area.

That motion to end opt outs was approved with a 5-3 vote with the two present Douglas County board of health representatives and an Arapahoe County representative voting no. After rescinding the opt out option, the health board approved a mask mandate for anyone over the age of 2 in schools and childcare settings.

Immediately following the decision from Tri-County, the Douglas County board released a statement saying it planned to continue its work in identifying “a public health agency framework that will honor the needs of Douglas County citizens,” according to the statement emailed through a spokesperson.

“The Tri-County Health Department board’s decision to rescind the opt-out provision from their policy during their meeting this afternoon unilaterally reversed our negotiated Nov. 10, 2020 agreement,” according to the statement.

​​In an earlier emailed statement about the possibility of Douglas County forming its own health department, a spokesperson for Tri-County said the agency would provide Douglas County any support possible if the commissioners do choose to transition.

"We are sorry that our 50+ year history of serving Douglas County residents may be coming to an end and that the separation has been catalyzed at such a divisive moment," according to the statement. "If the county does choose to make a change, we will continue to serve the residents to the best of our ability as long as we remain their Public Health Department and will provide whatever support we practically can in the transition."

Tri-County did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the board’s formal decision Wednesday.

The commissioners' work session was available to the public and a notification during that meeting showed that county staff recorded the meeting.

Related Stories

Spotlight Newsletter

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, in your inbox every Tuesday.

Sign up here!