PENDLETON — Umatilla County is taking control of the school health centers in Pendleton.

The county operates one center at the high school and the other at the middle school. The county last year contracted with Columbia River Health to staff the centers. The Boardman-based health organization in February notified the county it would not renew that contract.

Alisha Southwick, deputy director of Umatilla County Public Health Department, told the board during its meeting Wednesday in Pendleton the new plan is for the county to staff the centers directly. She said the health department met with school district officials and representative from St. Anthony Hospital, Pendleton, and they wanted the county to employ the health officials who work in the centers.

“The reasoning behind that is to help promote some stability in the center,” Southwick told the board. “When we were contracting … we had a lot of turnover through that, which made it an unreliable service for the students in the schools.”

Making the positions county employees, she continued, would give the schools more confidence in the service and lead to more students using it. Each center saw 150-200 students a year, she said, but that dipped with staffing vacancies the last two years.

She also said providing mental health services was a big part of the work at the centers.

The health department asked the county to approve hiring a nurse practitioner and two mental health specialists. Southwick said they would work full time when school was in session. State funding, insurance payments and some grants cover all the program costs, she added. The board approved the positions.

And the county’s $91 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year received the stamp of approval.

The county board of commissioners voted Wednesday morning in Pendleton to adopt the 2019-20 budget, which goes into effect July 1 with a general fund of $32.4 million, about $3.7 million more than the current budget.The county in the upcoming fiscal year also boosts its number of full- time equivalent employees from 311 to 324.

Commissioner George Murdock said while it took only a few moments to adopt the fiscal document, county staff put in two full days of work in April to parse through it all. The total budget document spans 280 pages.

The county board also gave the public works department the OK to buy a new tractor-trailer for almost $125,000, a new dump truck with a snow plow for $162,000 and a new dump truck with a snow plow and sander for about $183,000. Tom Fellows, public works director, explained the vehicles were on the equipment replacement list for 2019-20 and the county road department receives all of its money from the state highway fund.

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