What are the benefits of having a county health department?
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to illustrate the need for local public health capacity and decision-making in Delaware County. The Chester County Health Department has been a tremendous source of support, as has the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH), and yet with our own county health department we would be able to quickly identify the hardest hit areas and target testing and other preventive measures specially designed to reach those communities, engage with our civic leaders to discuss and prepare for the difficult decisions regarding restricted movement, commerce and person-to-person contact. The county would also have the legal authority to utilize timely data to implement mitigation strategies quickly in a pandemic or other public health emergency. However, the pandemic alone is not a sole reason to establish a county health department.
Currently, the governmental public health presence in Delaware County comprises the Office of Intercommunity Health Coordination in Media and the State Health Center in the City of Chester that is supported by the PA DOH Southeast District Office in Reading. The district office also serves the other three counties in the region (Schuykill, Berks and Lancaster) that do not their own county health department. While the discrete services offered by these entities are of high quality, unfortunately they do not function as an integrated system and therefore do not provide the comprehensive foundation that we need for our public’s health.
The health of our community is like a building—it depends on a strong and stable foundation. Things like quality education, safe and affordable housing, access to healthcare, and employment opportunities structure positive health outcomes for everyone in important ways. The mission of the county health department is to promote, protect and assure conditions for optimal health for all residents of Delaware County through leadership, prevention, response, and partnership with the community. As chief health strategist, the health department will work closely with many other sectors to assemble a solid foundation that supports long-lasting good health for us all.
Moreover, a Delaware County Health Department brings our hard-earned tax dollars back into the county, without being used for a regional approach to addressing public health issues. We can directly invest in programs and services to address issues prioritized by the community and work with the community to develop and implement strategies tailored to our unique needs.
A county health department also will provide us with the opportunity to apply for public and private grants for public health initiatives – grants currently out of our reach because the county does not have a public health department. Health departments across the country have secured grants from national philanthropies such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and organizations such as the National Association of County and City Health Officials, American Public Health Association, and the Public Health National Center for Innovation. Moreover, as chief health strategist, the health department also will work to secure funds for partners working to strengthen the foundation for community health.
Why are we developing a separate health department instead of making this a combined Delaware County – Chester County Health Department?
We are grateful for the critical role that Chester County Health Department has played during the pandemic, and it is likely that we will partner in several ways as we move forward. For example, we anticipate having mutual aid agreements, assisting each other with surge capacity whenever possible, and otherwise teaming up when a public health issue would be handled most efficiently and effectively through a collaborative effort.
Public health is a highly local phenomenon and is dependent on multiple sectors, both private and public. Having the authority to direct resources is key to meeting unique community needs. Delaware County government is accountable to its constituents and responsible for making policy decisions that clearly benefit the people it serves.
How much will it cost to have a health department and how will it be funded?
We are in the process of conducting an economic feasibility study to determine both the costs and the funding sources of the county health department, and the information will be shared as soon as we have finalized our plans. In addition, we already have begun to identify sources for grants and will work hard to secure grant funds to support our public health priorities. At this point, we estimate that that over 50% of the budget would be covered by federal and state allocations, with the remainder coming from a combination of local tax dollars, grants, and fees.
We are committed to the value of stewardship. We respect and honor the trust the public has placed in us to efficiently manage the County’s health resources equitably, responsibly and with integrity, and this value will be reflected in the financial plan.
Will the health department take over services that currently are provided by others?
The health department will take over the services currently provided by the State Health Center and the district health department that serve the county, as well as the work of the Office of Intercommunity Health Coordination. We also will work with municipalities to transition the responsibility for inspections to the county level. *
The health department will not take over services provided by other public and private entities. Delaware County has a robust array of services that protect and promote public health, e.g., ChesPenn, Delco Foundation WIC, mental and behavioral health services provided by the county agency, just to name a few. A critical role of the health department is to work in partnership with these and other sectors to have a greater collective impact on the health and well-being of our residents.
* We will work with any class 1 municipality that wishes to continue providing inspections to develop a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship.
What specific services will the health department provide?
When the clinic in Yeadon opens mid- January 2021, it will provide COVID-19 testing and immunizations.
When the health department is launched in January 2022, it will provide the following services as required by the Pennsylvania Department of Health:
Administrative and supportive services including: administration and program direction; budget; accounting; personnel administration including merit system supervision; public health education, public health statistics, public health laboratory services. Staff shall include the Health Director and necessary professional, technical and clerical personnel. (28 Pa Code § 15.12)
Personal health services including: chronic disease; communicable disease control, including tuberculosis control and venereal disease control; maternal and child health services; and public health nursing services. (28 Pa Code § 15.13)
Environmental health services including (but not limited to): food protection, water supply, water pollution control, bathing places, vector control, solid wastes, institutional environment, recreational environment and housing environment. (28 Pa Code § 15.14 and 16 P.S. § 2025(d))
As the health department grows, staff will work to establish and strengthen relationships with key partners that also are working to provide a robust foundation for our health. Moreover, a community health improvement planning process will identify specific priorities, both county-wide and for specific populations. It is anticipated that these issues will include working toward health equity, addressing violence prevention (specifically gun violence among Black men, the #4 cause of death for this population), and environmental health issues. Health department staff will engage partners and community members in the planning process, both to identify priority issues and develop solutions.
How will the health department work to address health inequities and reduce the differences in health outcomes among low income communities and communities of color?
Health inequities are defined as differences in health status that are unfair, unjust, and, most importantly, avoidable. The health department will begin its efforts to reduce inequities by working with community organizations and members to gather and analyze data at a very local level (ZIP codes and, wherever possible, census tracts) to understand the nature and location of existing inequities. This collaborative effort will continue on to develop specific, culturally and linguistically appropriate program strategies to address priority needs.
How long will it take to open the new department?
We anticipate opening the health department in January 2022.