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AGO 1951 No. 193 - December 14, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

BRINGING COUNTY HOSPITAL EMPLOYEES UNDER THE STATE MERIT SYSTEM.

The board of county commissioners may not bring the employees of the county hospital under the state merit system as administered by the state personnel board.

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                                                               December 14, 1951

Honorable John A. Kahl, M.D.
Acting Director, State Department of Health
Smith Tower
Seattle 4, Washington                                                                                            Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 193

Dear Sir:

            We are in receipt of your letter of November 6, 1951, wherein you requested an opinion of this office on the following question:

            "May the board of county commissioners bring the employees of the county hospital under the state merit system as administered by the State Personnel Board?"

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            The board of county commissioners may not bring the employees of the county hospital under the state merit system as administered by the State Personnel Board.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            It has been held in an opinion of this office dated June 28, 1950, addressed to the State Department of Health that county tuberculosis hospitals could not place their employees under the merit system as administered by the State  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] Personnel Board for the reason that county tuberculosis hospitals are strictly county projects and not subject to control by the State Department of Health.  This is held to be so despite the fact that the director has a duty to inspect the hospital, pass on building plans and withhold state funds from unapproved hospitals.  In view of this opinion, it is necessary, therefore, to examine the operation and control over county hospitals before a determination can be made as to whether or not employees in county hospitals can be placed under the merit system as administered by the State Personnel Board.

            Subsequent to the public assistance legislation in 1939, chapter 216, Laws of 1939, and prior to the passage of the Citizens' Security Act, chapter 1, Laws of 1951, personnel employed in county hospitals were subject to the state merit system.  The State Personnel Board had jurisdiction over this specific group of county employees because the hospital was supervised by the State Department of Social Security.  State direction of employment practices in county hospitals was an essential requirement for the obtaining of federal matching funds for a health service program for recipients of public welfare.

            Upon the effectiveness of chapter 1, Laws of 1951, all control and supervision over county hospitals was relinquished by the State Department of Social Security as the act placed the responsibility of a medical service program for welfare recipients in the hands of the State Department of Health.  (See opinion of this office dated November 14, 1950, addressed to the State Department of Social Security).  However, despite the fact that the administration of medical care to recipients of public assistance passed to the State Department of Health, control and supervision over county hospitals did not.  In the opinion of November 20, 1950, to the Director of the State Department of Social Security, it was held that the board of trustees of a two hundred bed county hospital continued to operate the county hospital after the passage of the Citizens' Security Act.  Regarding county hospitals of less than two hundred beds the opinion of June 11, 1951, to the Prosecuting Attorney, Whatcom County, [[Opinion No. 51-53-68]]stated that there was no repeal by implication by section 15, chapter 1, Laws of 1951 of section 1, chapter 228, Laws of 1947, (Rem. Supp., 1947, § 6090-1), which places the responsibility of maintaining a county hospital in the hands of the board of county commissioners.  A subsequent opinion of June 25, 1951, to the Prosecuting Attorney, Kittitas County, by inference confirms the opinion that the board of county commissioners has control and supervision over the county hospital.

            In relation to the fiscal operations of a county hospital, chapter 256, Laws of 1951, provides for the manner in which state payments shall be made into the county hospital fund.  Section 2 of the chapter states that the State Director of Health shall make recommendations to the board of county commissioners as  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] to its proposed county hospital budget; however, no provision is made for any state control over the actual budget.  And, in the event that additional funds are needed for the operation of the hospital, the board of county commissioners may issue interest bearing warrants in accordance with provisions of section 36.40.180 RCW.

            It is clear, then, that the state does not have supervision over a county hospital either in regard to fiscal operations, although the State Department of Health makes state funds available to the hospitals, or in regard to actual maintenance and control of the hospital.

            The board of county commissioners by resolution can place, and many of them have placed, local health offices under the merit system of the State Personnel Board.  This action can be taken only because the State Department of Health exercises general supervision over local governmental units engaged in public health work.  (See opinion of March 3, 1948, to the State Personnel Board).  However, because the operation of the county hospital is strictly a county project and not subject to control by the State Department of Health, it is the opinion of this office that the board of county commissioners cannot bring the employees of the county hospital under the state merit system as administered by the State Personnel Board.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

BARBARA L. OHNICK
Assistant Attorney General

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