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Wyoming adding new education requirements for local health officers under new law

Dr. Mark Dowell, M.D., Dr. Ghazi Ghanem, M.D., both infectious disease experts at WMC, are joined by Anna Kinder with the Natrona County Health Department, and Dr. Ron Ivenson, M.D., during a press conference on coronavirus plans. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — New education requirements for local health officers in Wyoming will go into effect on July 1, 2021 after Governor Mark Gordon signed House Bill 109 into law on Thursday, April 1.

Under the new law, county, municipal and district health officers will be required to have either a doctor of medicine degree, an advanced practice registered nurse or a physician’s assistant.

Health officers will also be required to complete continuing education as directed by either the local board of health, the county commissioners or a municipal governing body due to an amendment to the original legislation adopted by the House of Representatives which was proposed by House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly (Albany).

The House also contemplated adding a requirement that health officers be residents of Wyoming whether they serve in the role on a part or full time basis, but the House defeated this amendment which was proposed by Rep. Clarence Styvar (Laramie County).

House Majority Whip Hans Hunt (Niobrara, Weston, Goshen) expressed opposition to the amendment ahead of second reading in the House. Hunt said that he had recently spoken with constituents who are concerned that the House is adding too many restrictions into the bill.

Rep. Landon Brown (Laramie County) agreed: “We’re starting to require some pretty heavy handed side-boards.”

He added that people serving as health officers could “easily” be working in the private sector for higher pay. With health officers facing public criticism over COVID-19 public health policies, Brown said that he thinks it may become more difficult to recruit people to serve as health officers.

“After this past year, I don’t think there are going to be very many of them that ever want to do this job again, quite frankly,” he said.

Brown also questioned whether there are any health officers in Wyoming who are residents of other states.

Styvar said that “the public health officer out of Carbon County is a resident of the state south of us (Colorado). I believe these county health officers should be a resident of Wyoming so they know what is going on so they know what is going on when they are writing these orders.”

Rep. Chuck Gray (Natrona) said he supported the amendment and that he thinks representation of public health interests in the state should be provided by a resident.

Since the House defeated this amendment, a requirement that local health officers be residents of Wyoming is not part of the new law.

The House passed House Bill 109 on a unanimous 60-0 vote on March 18. The Senate passed the bill without adding any amendments. The Senate passed the bill on a third reading vote of 29-0 on March 26 with Sen. Jeff Wasserburger (Campbell, Converse) excused.