Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Approves Civilian Health Oversight Board

In the wake of health department's critical failures, mayor and council want more oversight.

By - Feb 5th, 2019 01:21 pm
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Jeanette Kowalik. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Health Department will soon have citizen-led oversight.

Tuesday morning, the Common Council unanimously approved creating a nine-member Board of Health. The new commission, appointed by the mayor, will include eight citizens and one member of the council.

At least one member should be a physician, and another a registered nurse, according to the authorizing ordinance.

The measure, championed by Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, comes just over a year after Health Commissioner Bevan K. Baker resigned in the wake of a cascading series of failures in the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

“This is a wonderful moment in the history of our city to be quite honest,” said Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik at a recent Public Safety and Health Committee meeting. “I firmly believe that the Health Department wouldn’t be in the situation that it’s in if we had this board of health.”

During her confirmation hearing in early September, Kowalik identified creation of the board as one of her top three priorities.

Lewis said that when she started asking questions after Baker resigned, she was surprised to find that the health department, unlike the police and fire departments, didn’t have an oversight board. “Upon further digging, I found out that we are required to have an oversight board.”

“There was some type of rub as to why the City of Milwaukee was exempt or not from following state statute,” said Kowalik. “So now it sends a message that we are fair players here.”

The board is required to meet at least quarterly.

“I don’t think it would have prevented the lead crisis. I think we would have been more knowledgeable and we would have been able to mitigate it a little bit better,” said Lewis in an interview. She said the board will provide greater oversight and ensure issues are rectified faster.

When asked during an interview if she wanted the council post on the board, Lewis responded: “Absolutely.” The alderwoman, first elected in 2016, said the public safety and health are her niche.

The board’s creation was sponsored by council members Lewis, Nikiya Dodd, Jose G. Perez and Ashanti Hamilton. Lewis praised the support from the Health Department and Mayor Tom Barrett‘s office in creating the board.

Who Can Serve?

The city will soon begin accepting nominations to the board.

The authorizing legislation defines two groups of individuals for candidacy. All board members must be city residents and meet these requirements:

Five persons with backgrounds in science and public health including formal training and appropriate education credentials in these areas. These board members shall be current members in good standing of the professional associations representing their respective professions.

Three persons with backgrounds and appropriate education credentials in fields of the social determinants of health, including, but not limited to, law, law enforcement and commerce. These board members shall be current members in good standing of the professional associations representing their respective professions.

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More about the Lead Crisis

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