Health department terminates TSET grant obligations

·3 min read

Jul. 7—The Pittsburg County Health Department is terminating its grant obligations with TSET, the state's Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

In addition, all of the county health departments with TSET programs in Southeastern Oklahoma that are overseen by District 9 Regional/Pittsburg County Health Department Administrator Juli Montgomery are also terminating their TSET grant obligations.

Montgomery said the plan is to move forward with hiring additional health department personnel and beginning projects that will be paid for through funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021.

Pittsburg County Health Department Business Manager Cheryl McElhany met this week with Pittsburg County commissioners to obtain approval to terminate the county health department's obligations associated with the annual TSET grant.

McElhany said TSET is requiring new data assessments of information that's already been assessed, which the health department feels is time-consuming and not the best use of health department personnel.

"It's not an effective use of our time and money," McElhany said. "We can be out in the community rather than doing data assessments."

Also, TSET planned to pay a lesser portion of the salaries and fringe benefits of health department personnel working through the TSET program, she said.

"TSET now requires us to pick up a portion of the of salaries," said McElhany. That resulted in the elimination of a position.

"They've reduced us from three, to two," McElhany said of health department personnel staffing TSET programs. The remaining two have since left the TSET program for other duties at the health department, with no health department plans to refill the vacant TSET conditions.

"This allows us to do more," McElhany told the commissioners. "TSET has become very financially-crippling for us."

She said the former TSET personnel can be better used by the health department in other ways, such as health education.

"You get more service to the public," said District 2 Commissioner Kevin Smith.

Smith joined with District 1 Commissioner Charlie Rogers and District 3 Commissioner Ross Selman to approve the Pittsburg County Health Department terminating its TSET grant obligations.

Asked Wednesday if the Pittsburg County Health Department will have to return any grant funds to TSET, Montgomery said the TSET grants were in the form of reimbursements for money already spent. Since the new fiscal year began July 1, 2021, no TSET money has been spent for the current fiscal year, so no money will have to be returned, she said.

Rather, TSET will be informed Pittsburg County Health Department along with the other previously-participating health departments in Region 9 will not be taking part in the TSET grant program for the new fiscal year. Montgomery said the annual TSET grants now being declined were for approximately $204,000.

Now, the health department is accessing a larger amount through another grant, obtained through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021.

Montgomery noted $2.25 billion moved through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Act. Out of that, $44 million came to Oklahoma, with approximately $3 million going to Pittsburg County and the other counties in the health department's Region 9.

"We have three years to spend this; we have about $3 million to move forward with," Montgomery said, with plans including the hiring of additional personnel.

"There will be health educators," Montgomery said. "We're also bringing in community health workers."

Montgomery feels that will be a more effective use of the health department's time and money than collecting more data assessments.

"We want to do better," she said.

In addition to Pittsburg County, the other county health departments in Montgomery's Region 9 also terminating their TSET grant obligations include Atoka, Pushmataha, Bryan and McCurtain counties. Other Region 9 counties are Latimer, LeFlore, Coal and Choctaw counties.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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