TRUMBULL COUNTY Building is not safe, union complains
Officials have been considering moving the health department since 2002.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Trumbull County commissioners are risking the health of health board workers by failing to find them a safe place to work, union representatives charge.
This morning, commissioners are expected to reject an offer to lease the health department a building on North Park Avenue and instead re-advertise for bids, a process that will take at least four weeks.
Their decision comes two days after the union representing the health board's 30 employees filed a grievance protesting work conditions in the Chestnut Street building, which has a leaky roof and windows, crumbling steps and poisonous mold in the basement.
Now it's cold
The mold was discovered in May 2002, but commissioners balked at fixing it because of the expense. Rather, they elected to have the basement and some heating ducts sealed off. As a result, when cold weather hit last week, first-floor temperatures remained in the 50s.
The health department's clinic is on the first floor, including examination rooms for pregnant women.
"The bottom line is, we are not safe anymore," said assistant shop steward Sandy Swann, a registered nurse in the clinic. "Our clients are not safe."
If the building were in the health department's jurisdiction, environmental health director Frank Migliozzi said he would have it condemned for air quality concerns related to the poisonous mold. The building is in Warren, which has its own health department.
"We realize we have a problem and we are trying to fix it," Commissioner Joseph Angelo Jr. said in response to angry comments from health department workers at a work session Tuesday.
The commissioners have discussed finding a new home for the health department for at least 18 months. One reason the commissioners have elected not to repair the building is because it is not handicapped accessible, said county administrator Tony Carson. If the building were remodeled, commissioners would be required to make it accessible to people with disabilities, he said.
The heat does work on the second floor of the building, employees said. However, working on the second floor also has drawbacks. This summer, some employees were pulling plastic sheeting over their desks at night to avoid damage from the leaky roof.
The union did not file a grievance at that time because it wanted to work with the health commissioner and county commissioners, said shop steward Lucinda Sentner. Health board workers are represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 11.
Carson said he is recommending that commissioners reject the bid from Park-Porter Ltd. to rent the health department space because no one else bid for the lease.
There were several inquiries, but Carson said potential bidders may have been reluctant to remodel a building for what would only have been a five-year contract.
He said commissioners would re-advertise for bids, this time offering a 10-year contract.
As well, he said that commissioners are waiting for Auditor David Hines to tell them if the county could borrow money to buy a building, and make payments on a bond instead of paying rent.
Providing a home for the health department is the county commissioners' legal responsibility. Commissioners and health board officials have not yet negotiated how to divide the expense for a new building.