New Health Department director wants to fill gaps in county services

Jeff Kuhr, the new director of the Mesa County Health Department, decided to take the $95,000-a-year position after being assured by the county Board of Health that he will answer to its members, not the Mesa County commissioners. “All in all, I feel pretty good about the state of the county,” Kuhr says.

Jeff Kuhr was responsible for building the Three Rivers Public Health Department in Fremont, Neb., from the ground up — literally.

Until the multibillion-dollar national tobacco settlement of 1998, there was no public health coverage in most of Nebraska, including a three-county region in the eastern part of the state.

But using money from that multistate agreement, Kuhr created a health department in 2003 to serve 75,000 residents and increased the department’s work force from 1 to 14 and its annual budget from $385,000 to $1 million.

Eight years later, Kuhr’s tasks as the new public health director for the Mesa County Health Department may not be as formidable.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges within an 83-employee department that endured a series of budget cuts and a reshuffling at the top that resulted in the demotion of longtime director Dr. Michael Aduddell.

Kuhr said he doesn’t yet know what, if any, changes he will institute, saying he plans to spend the next couple of months learning about the Health Department’s programs, services and organizational structure. He does believe, though, that the department should be a resource to the community at large and other health providers.

He said the department needs to identify and address gaps in services, avoid duplication of programs and services and assimilate all local health-related data.

The latter will ensure various people and agencies that comprise the local public health system can act upon the appropriate information to address the health needs of county residents.

“We want to collect information, synthesize it and put it in a usable form,” he said.

The 48-year-old married father of two said he decided to relocate to western Colorado because he wanted to work in a larger county and take on more responsibilities.

But it’s a move that, at one point, he considered not making.

After reassigning Aduddell to be a part-time medical officer as part of an organizational assessment, the Mesa County Board of Health conducted a national search for a new department director and settled on Kuhr. He accepted the job, only to change his mind within a couple of weeks, then change it again.

Kuhr told Board of Health members he was concerned about turnover within several county departments and that county commissioners were too involved in the day-to-day operations of the county.

He ultimately decided to take the $95,000-a-year post after the Board of Health assured him that he answers to it, not the County Commission.

While saying he was concerned about the security of his job and family, Kuhr backed off his earlier statements to the Board of Health in an interview last week, saying he may not have had a full picture of what was happening within the county, and that he respects the work commissioners do.

“All in all, I feel pretty good about the state of the county,” he said.


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