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SJC Board of Health halts food inspection agreement with ND

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In its monthly meeting, the St. Joseph County Board of Health decided to halt the food inspection agreement with Notre Dame due to the wording in a confidentiality clause. 

The Memorandum of Understanding technically took effect on August 1, 2018, but the board's lawyer advised notifying the university that it would need to revise that portion before the health officer signs it.

The agreement was originally drafted to transfer the responsibility of conducting routine compliance inspections for all Notre Dame food establishments to the university itself.

The move would give the short-staffed health department one less thing to worry about.

The problem that caused concern for the board's lawyer is this section:

SJCHD agrees that it will not make summaries of results of routine compliance inspections conducted by ND...accessible to the general public and agrees to maintain these summaries...as private documents.

The board's new deputy health officer says he encourages community partnerships, but their first duty is to the public.

“We are the public health department, so we have an obligation to the public. We can’t keep our records private, so again serving the needs of the public, we have that obligation," said Dr. Mark Fox, SJCDH Deputy Health Officer.

Per the MOU, either party has 30 days to notify the other that it wants to terminate the agreement, so the board's lawyer said he will be writing to the university soon.

As part of Dr. Fox's mission to serve the public, he said he'll be focusing on community health improvement initiatives, like the immunization program, infant mortality, epidemiology, health education, and, of course, the lead abatement program.

He says the main challenges he's coming up against on that front are short-staffing, so a backlog of parent requests, which add up to 21 as of Wednesday, and removing barriers to those who are interested in testing their child's blood lead levels.

He says between 2016 and 2017, testing dropped off a bit.

Last year, the board said 32 Lead Risk Assessments were completed, which adds up to fewer than three a month.

Dr. Fox's goal is to get the number of kids in high-risk areas being tested back up.

“With that I would expect that we’ll see more kids with elevated lead levels…we need to make sure that we’re staffed up for that and can respond to the increased demand that we expect with increased testing," he said.

The potential for that goal being realized depends on the budget.

The public hearing for the Board of Health's budget is set for October 9.

Also in October is lead prevention week (Oct. 21-27), during which Dr. Fox plans to have his whole team working out in the community.

Dr. Galup, the health officer, also provided an update on tuberculosis in the county.

He reports that there have been two deaths from TB--one this year and one in December 2017.

He also said there have been 15 cases of active TB this year so far.

In regards to testing for TB, he says the CDC announced a change in procedure as of October 1, where doctors will no longer be allowed to do skin testing.

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