Health board eyes overdose kits and septic stink

Debbie Blank | The Herald-TribuneAttorney Gene Stewart (from right) makes a point about a problematic septic system while Brian and Erin Vogel and daughter Elayna, 8, listen. Erin Vogel said she and her husband are frustrated. "We're trying to not have to stay on top of the county doing their job ... but the county won't do their job."

BROOKVILLE – An overdose response kit was passed around to Franklin County Health Department employees and board members by board member Jennifer Profitt, Brookville, at the Oct. 17 quarterly meeting.

The kit contained two 4-milligram nasal deliveries of Narcan, which can reverse potentially fatal opioid overdoses; gloves; and information about a nine-step recovery process.

Profitt said she's already urged FCHD grant manager Linda Vaughan to look for grants "that might help our county" lessen the drug crisis, perhaps by getting funding to give kits to citizens.

She attended a short kit training in Over the Rhine, a neighborhood near downtown Cincinnati.

Profitt said other entities are offering the kits and "we have the same qualities our neighbors have." The board member didn't want to wait until the next board meeting for a decision. "That's three months. They're dying."

She will investigate the number of county overdoses in order to complete a grant application.

Department supervisor Angie Ruther, R.N., reported, "We don't have a problem" with Profitt exploring kit funding and distribution.

The board member had just attended FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention training on the role of public health in a crisis situation. The Civilian Support Team member learned heroin laced with the even more dangerous fentanyl has turned up in Cincinnati and Kokomo. She also volunteered to look for federal funds to pay for training physicians and first responders about the hazard.

Profitt questioned, "When is it appropriate and how can we give information to law enforcement officer if it's related to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)?"

Ruther answered, "That really doesn't happen very often, but it might."

The board member reported she has practiced mock incidents, such as anthrax being found in a small town. "The FBI feels a health department would find out about an incident first" when persons are sickened or dying.

Ruther suggested that Profitt connect federal and state officials she knows to FCHD public health coordinator Faye Hay, Cedar Grove. The supervisor said other employees can join the conversation as well.

However, the majority of the meeting was spent on a problem between two neighbors.

Brian Vogel, 5191 Dickson Road, Cedar Grove, said he first approached FCHD sanitarian Joe Meier in April 2015 about a septic sewer system owned by neighbor Dennis Payne, 5185 Dickson Road. "Payne acknowledged it was on my property ... When this was brought to Joe's attention, he really didn't want anything to do with it."

Records showed "it was never a permitted system." Meier had issued a temporary permit earlier, but the finished system was never inspected, so Vogel contended it was illegal.

The disgruntled man said, "I would like to know why ... he didn't resolve that issue, why I had to retain an attorney ... and two years worth of litigation" costing him $5,000.

Meier reported after sending a July 2016 letter about the problem to health officer Dr. Michael Fain, who didn't respond, in August 2016, he forwarded the information to attorney Gene Stewart, who assists the health department. Then the Indiana State Department of Health received notice Vogel had started legal proceedings.

Stewart explained, "I didn't get it filed because you initiated civil litigation on your own," which is what he would have done.

On July 6, at a hearing attended by plaintiff Erin Vogel, defendant Dennis Payne and his attorney John Kellerman, Meier and Stewart, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Steven Cox ordered Payne to "immediately unearth the septic system at issue in this matter for inspection purposes" and set another hearing for July 20.

At that hearing the judge found Payne "not in compliance as ordered and sets said cause for a contempt hearing" Aug. 1. On that date Cox learned the system hadn't been unearthed yet and ordered it to immediately happen so that the Franklin County Health Department could inspect it and write a report by Aug. 11.

In an Aug. 11 report, the sanitarian said he and Indiana State Department of Health environmental scientist Alice Quinn had inspected the Payne leech bed, which had been exposed. Meier wrote, "I observed no part of this leech line entering the Vogel property ... Quinn and I explained to Mr. Payne that the leech line that is present is not adequate and does not meet the state and local requirements. We also explained that he would need to install a new leech field in a different area of the property after a soils report and permits are obtained."

The judge wrote a final order Aug. 15 that stated, "upon review of the report filed Aug. 11 by Joe Meier," he said the issue had been resolved and there were no further pending issues.

Stewart elaborated, "The court concluded the system was not on Mr. Vogel's property and dismissed the case. It is a nonconforming system ... Joe has been working with the property owner" to get the system in compliance.

Vogel said he's more concerned about "the level of the contamination" in a puddle on a tractor path on his property. He worried sewage is seeping from Payne's land onto his, perhaps from a tile. Driving through the puddle, as his son does on an off-road vehicle, "if you had a blindfold on, you'd think you were at the sanitary station. It has never decreased, it has never dried up. It still smells like crap."

His son "has come back with it all over his entire body."

Vogel reported he put 8 tons of field rock on the spot and it still is damp even during dry weather.

Wife Erin Vogel said the couple has spent "weeks and weeks and weeks" with Stewart and Payne, but the source of contamination still hasn't been found.

In a seven-page Aug. 7 report, Quinn said she obtained a water sample that day from a culvert outlet. ISDH lab results the next day showed 580 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of water. She noted beaches are closed when the level reaches 235 cfu, so the water on the Vogels' land was more than double that limit. Quinn wrote, "The fecal contamination could be from a number of sources, including Mr. Payne's home or wildlife in the area of the tiling system, the junction box or the outlet of the culvert."

Meier said the judge never got Quinn's report.

Erin Vogel said in addition to worrying how the contamination could affect her family, she wondered how it would impact crops, wildlife and the watershed. "I brought all this to light and nobody seemed to care. It amazes me."

Quinn recommended that FCHD find the contamination's source.

Stewart noted, "If we can find a source of contamination on Payne's property that is draining onto Vogel's property, we can ask the court to enter a restraining order stopping the flow of whatever that might be."

Brian Vogel maintained, "All kinds of stuff got missed. Basically I want my money back for what I had to spend, for what I had to miss work." He said he complained at the Aug. 12 commissioners meeting and "I haven't heard from one person.... somebody tell me something."

The health officer said, "We know the sample is high ... but we don't know if there's any standard for standing water on farm or pasture land. That's something that needs to be established."

Brian Vogel worried about getting bacteria on skin or breathing it in. Fain pointed out, "This isn't in your house ... Have you or your property been harmed in any way other than the smell?" The homeowner answered, "It depends on what you're calling harm. I bought my dream property" and he doesn't want contaminated water there.

According to the attorney, "There's a difference between civil liability and a health risk." Fain asked Meier to discuss whether it's a health issue with the state scientist.

Stewart suggested asking Quinn more specific questions "and get some direction from her. Then we need to find out where it's coming from."

The Vogels wanted FCHD to tell Payne to redirect his wastewater flow, but Stewart didn't think the department had that authority.

Profitt said, "Our role is to make sure it's not a public health issue." She made a motion to discover what the 580 count means as far as a public health risk in that environment. Fain, Meier, Stewart and Profitt planned to have a conference call with Quinn.

Board members sought

• The appointments of board President Patsy Weileman and member Joy Bishop, Brookville, end Dec. 31. They will decide if they'd like to be re-appointed. Meanwhile, "we're still short" two board members out of the optimal seven, said Ruther. FCHD officials are looking for county residents with law enforcement or agriculture backgrounds. Interested persons may contact the supervisor at 765-647-4322.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

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