State health dept. takes back inspection duties from St. Paul

An agreement that delegated some of the Minnesota Department of Health's inspection duties to St. Paul city employees is being terminated.

The health department is responsible for inspecting restaurants, hotels and swimming pools, spokesman Michael Schommer said. Under the agreement, those duties were given to city employees. Schommer said city inspectors made frequent errors on inspections reports and did not perform enough routine inspections each month. The state health department is ending the agreement.

"We alerted St. Paul to those concerns and since June of 2012 we've been working with them to develop an approach that we thought would address those issues," Schommer said. "Our experience since then has shown that the program has not improved sufficiently and so we decided to cancel the delegated inspection agreement with them."

St. Paul city officials say they have addressed some of the concerns by hiring more staff including a new environmental health manager. The city filed a request for a temporary restraining order to block the termination of agreements by the state.

Ricardo Cervantes, director of the St. Paul's department of safety and inspections, acknowledges the city's inspections department was falling short of fulfilling some guidelines of the agreements. However, Cervantes says the city took steps to fix that.

"We were short on staff, so we did the calculations based on what the federal standard was and we added six additional staff to that division," Cervantes said. "Essentially doubling the inspectors in that division."

Cervantes says having city workers perform inspections for restaurants, hotels, pools and grocery stores saves time and money for businesses.

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