Mon Commission meets county’s next health officer, approves MCHD fee increase

MORGANTOWN — There were concerns, Dr. Lee Smith admitted Wednesday to the Monongalia County Commission. 

As the county health officer, he’d spent a decade building the Monongalia County Health Department into the state’s largest in terms of employees, people served, and services offered. 

Dr. Brian Huggins

Who would be willing to step in and carry the torch for public health upon his retirement? 

Then, as he explains it, Dr. Brian Huggins fell out of the sky. 

A turn of phrase, but true to some degree. 

Huggins spent 12 years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, including six years as a flight surgeon, three years at Eielson Air Force Base as chief of aerospace medicine and three at NATO AB Gielenkirchen, Germany, as Aerospace Medicine Section Commander. 

But it all started here in West Virginia.

“I’m actually a West Virginia native. I grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia. Went to West Liberty University, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and spent about 12 years on active duty in the Air Force,” he said. “I spent a little bit of time in Alaska and Germany. I married an Alaskan. She and I are wanting to settle down in West Virginia. We’re really excited for this opportunity to be with you guys.” 

Huggins completed a residency at UNC Chapel Hill in preventative medicine and public health and earned a Master of Public Health. 

“Really, really just looking forward to being a part of this organization and continuing all the great work [Smith] has started,” he said. 

Huggins has been with MCHD for about three weeks. At the end of May, Smith will step away and he’ll be flying solo. 

Commission President Sean Sikora said he’s got some big shoes to fill. 

“This community really owes you a lot of thanks for everything you’ve done to create a solid infrastructure and foundation for our health department going forward,” Sikora told Smith. “It’s not easy to tell how many lives you’ve affected, but you’ve really affected a lot in a positive way. So, we really appreciate all your years of service.”  

Pleasantries aside, the MCHD contingent was also at the meeting to attend to a bit of business. 

Due to recent legislative action, code sections that govern environmental health permit fees and fees for service were amended and/or repealed, and that oversight was transferred to the city or county where the health department is located. 

The commission voted Wednesday to approve a 20% increase to the MCHD’s environmental health fees. 

Under the old system, local health departments were last given legislative permission to increase fees by 25% in 2020. The Monongalia County Board of Health held off on adopting the higher rates until 2021 out of concern for the financial toll COVID had taken on businesses. 

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