Benton-Franklin Health District to hire half-time doctor

The Benton-Franklin Health District on Wednesday unanimously agreed to proceed with hiring a roughly half-time doctor to replace retiring Health Officer Dr. Larry Jecha.

Board members directed Benton-Franklin Health District Administrator Jason Zaccaria to hire someone by Jan. 1, 2012, when Jecha hopes to step down from his full-time position as health officer.

Board members discussed whether the job could be done by someone working two-tenths of a full-time schedule, but Zaccaria recommended hiring someone to work at least six-tenths of a full-time schedule to maintain health district services built around having a full-time doctor on staff.

Zaccaria advised that some services, even though performed by nurses, require a medical doctor to be on-site at the health district in order to be billed under the doctor's credentials. The doctor also assumes liability under his or her own medical license for certain functions of the health district.

If billed under a nurse's credentials, the district collects less money from Medicare and third-party insurance companies, and the district as a result could experience a financial loss of tens of thousands of dollars per month, Zaccaria said.

The district also would experience losses or delays in payment whilethe new health officer is hired and approved to bill Medicare and third-party insurers for services provided by the Benton-Franklin Health District if Jecha had not agreed to stay on temporarily.

Jecha has worked for the district full time as its health officer since 1996, and also held the position from 1988 to 1992, when he left to become director of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Department of Community Health in his native Kansas to be closer to family.

He also has been the district's administrator until that became a separate full-time job and Zaccaria took the position in May of this year.

Board members asked if Jecha could stay on part time during the transition, but Jecha said he had no interest in part-time work because it would affect his ability to collect retirement benefits.

When Jecha, 71, first announced his desire to retire two years ago, he had discussed the possibility of becoming the district's part-time health officer, but told board members Wednesday that he has changed his mind in the intervening years.

"I want to travel and do other things," he said.

In the midst of the discussion, the six board members -- who also are the Benton and Franklin county commissioners -- went into a brief closed-door meeting over the Herald's objection, citing the exemption allowing closed meetings to review an employee's performance.

After the roughly three-minute closed meeting, board member Brad Peck assured meeting attendees that no action had been taken during the closed portion and that the board had strictly confined its discussion to the stated purpose.

Health board members then agreed that Zaccaria's recommendation to hire a health officer for six-tenths of a full-time schedule made the most financial sense for the district.

But they emphasized that they want someone in place as soon as is possible.

"We are trying to solve this issue," said board Chairman Jim Beaver. "The administrator has spent some time looking at it. ... I agree with Commissioners Peck and (Bob) Koch that this has taken a lot longer than we anticipated."