Fresno County supervisors added 45 new positions on Tuesday, including three targeting communicable diseases and one overseeing tree mortality.
The bulk of new jobs, 35, were funded without county general fund dollars for the Department of Behavioral Health. The positions, in large part, will provide oversight for county-operated and contracted behavioral health programs.
Many of the behavioral health positions will be in data analysis to ensure that the county’s employees and contractors are serving clients properly, said Dawan Utecht, Fresno County behavioral health director.
The analysis is increasingly necessary because the county has continued to increase its number of contracts and paid more money toward those programs. It’s a way to understand the needs of those using the department’s services and local trends, she said.
Behavioral health officials want to ensure “that access needs are being met, that we’re not experiencing huge wait times, that people are not going into crisis because they didn’t get seen by a physician and get their prescription filled,” Utecht said.
The roughly $3.2 million through June of 2017 to pay for the behavioral health positions comes out of state and federal funds.
Supervisors also supported adding 10 positions in the Department of Public Health, three of which will specifically target communicable diseases, including syphilis, which has risen tenfold since 2012 in Fresno County, said Dr. Kenneth Bird, the county’s health officer.
The county has been assisted in the past two months by the state Department of Public Health and federal Centers for Disease Control to manage the syphilis outbreak in the county, which was the highest per capita in California in 2015.
My biggest concern is finding the individuals who are infected and infectious and evaluating them and getting them treated so no further infection occurs.
Dr. Kenneth Bird, county health officer
“My biggest concern is finding the individuals who are infected and infectious and evaluating them and getting them treated so no further infection occurs,” Bird said.
The person overseeing tree mortality will work with other agencies to coordinate damage assessments, emergency declarations and improve emergency preparedness programs in Fresno County, which is among the hardest hit in the drought and bark beetle infestation that is killing Ponderosa pines in the Sierra.
The public health positions cost about $800,000 through June of 2017.
Solar plant OK’d
The supervisors supported construction of a 320-acre solar electricity generation project near Five Points. The 40-megawatt project was appealed from a previous planning commission approval in February.
Opponents with California Unions for Reliable Energy opposed the project because its representative, Laura Horton, said the county’s environmental document failed to go far enough to ensure that air quality, biological resources and Valley fever could be mitigated during construction and on site during operations.
The planning commission supported the plant on an 8-0 vote. Supervisors said they found the environmental document sufficient and denied the appeal on a 5-0 vote.
Jess Melin, representative for Whitney Point Solar, the group building the project, said his opponents have come out against other projects by his company because it refuses to enter into an agreement with organized labor. He said the company can break ground within a few weeks.
Supervisors also approved the appointment of Steve White as the county’s public works and planning director. White now serves as the Clovis city engineer. He will replace Alan Weaver, who retired in February. Weaver also came to the county from Clovis, where he had been public utilities director.