Delaware County Issues Progress Report on Creation of County Health Department

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COVID-19 pandemic highlights need for coordinated public health planning and response

During its public meeting on May 20, Delaware County Council unanimously voted to hire Gorenflo Consulting Inc. to assist in creating a strategic plan to set up a county health department.

Vice Chair Dr. Monica Taylor also provided an update on the creation of a county health department during the meeting.

Days after the November 2019 election, the new Council Elects and incumbent Council Members created a dozen transition teams to gather information, identify key issues, and develop and recommend action plans regarding a wide range of issues and subjects relating to the governance and management of Delaware County. The development of a county health department was a priority of the new Council and the work that has been done as part of the process has benefitted the County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beginning in December, as part of their transition process, Council worked with experts to identify the steps that needed to be taken to create a public health department in Delaware County. Since then, Council has made tremendous progress, received guidance from experts across the region and the commonwealth and has identified and hired a consultant to lead the strategic planning process.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted how vital it is for there to be coordinated, comprehensive public health programs and policies,” said Dr. Taylor. “Delaware County has already benefitted from this process during the COVID-19 pandemic and will undoubtedly need it as we address its long-term impact on our community.”

The importance of a county health department was clear well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a study performed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Delaware County ranks 47th out of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties for health outcomes, 33rd in length of life and 59th in quality of life. Its neighbors in Chester County ranked 3rd, Montgomery County ranked 4th, and Bucks County ranked 6th in health outcomes.

During the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in Delaware County, the County was dependent upon the State for information on COVID-19 cases in the county, contact tracing for residents who tested positive and guidance. A few weeks after the first case in the county, Delaware County entered into an intergovernmental cooperation agreement with Chester County, which identified the responsibilities of the Chester County Health Department (CCHD) during the COVID-19 outbreak. Under the agreement, the CCHD provides coordination of increased testing, case investigation and surveillance, quarantine designations and public health guidance to Delaware County.

“The critical need for a county health department became abundantly clear when Chester County’s Health Department took over the public health needs of our residents pertaining to COVID-19,” said Taylor. “Delaware County was not as healthy as other counties before the pandemic and our long-term care facilities didn’t have the advantage of additional guidance and support from a local health department, as other counties had. These are a few factors which may have resulted in Delaware County having a higher number of COVID-19 cases compared to our neighboring counties.”

The County is currently undergoing a study being conducted by the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health to evaluate the delivery of health and public health services in Delaware County and provide the County with recommendations on how to enhance and strengthen these services. The study is being done to gain a better understanding of the public health needs of residents and identify any gaps in the delivery of services. The results of this study are expected to be released in July.

The process for establishing a county health department is heavily regulated by the Commonwealth’s Department of Health, and includes requirements for an Economic Impact/ Feasibility Study and a Strategic Plan.

Dr. Taylor detailed the many actions and steps that have already been taken, including multiple meetings with experts and Commonwealth and Department of Health leaders, as well as the development and timing of a new strategic plan. Given the stringency of the state’s requirements, the process to create a county health department is expected to take approximately 18 to 24 months. Council’s goal is to establish a county public health department and have it be operational by the end of 2021.

The Timeline for Action:

2020:

July: Johns Hopkins Health Study completed.

July/August: Community Town Hall to discuss the results of the Johns Hopkins Study

August: Request for Proposals for Economic Impact/Feasibility study issued

December: Completion of Strategic Plan


2021:

Winter/Spring: Hire a Director for the new Health Department

Winter/Spring: Create a Board of Health

Summer/Fall: Begin hiring required personnel

End of Year: Open Health Department


“We have made enormous progress in the few months since we officially began this process, and that is a testament to the hard work of those inside and outside of government who have helped us,” said Taylor. “In the coming months, we will continue to work to develop and launch this new department, which we believe will benefit every Delaware County resident.”



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Delaware County, presently consisting of over 184 square miles divided into forty-nine municipalities is the oldest settled section of Pennsylvania.


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