Delaware County taking steps to coordinate public-health efforts

Posted: March 11, 2011

A year after a Johns Hopkins University study found Delaware County's public-health system lacking in leadership and coordination, the county has been slow to implement many of the study's recommendations.

County officials said Thursday that they are trying to remedy that soon by hiring a senior medical adviser to help coordinate public-health efforts.

They have spent the last year, they said, planning how best to address the shortfalls highlighted in the study done by Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Bowing to pressure from community groups that want the county to establish a health department, the county in 2008 commissioned Hopkins to conduct a survey of the gaps in the county's public-health coverage. The study was funded by a $50,000 state grant, and the findings were released last March.

Hopkins recommended that the county:

Hire a leader for its public-health services.

Design a centralized system to disseminate health information to the public.

Provide more funding for public health.

Establish a task force to oversee the county's public-health efforts.

Councilman Mario Civera has spearheaded the efforts in the last year to implement the recommendations.

He said the county is in the final stages of interviewing two candidates - both doctors - for the part-time position of senior medical adviser.

He said he hopes the position will be filled by the end of April.

The website for Intercommunity Health, a six-person county department that coordinates information on public-health issues, has been improved, he said.

The Health Advisory Board, a group of medical professionals that advises the county , will be expanded and hold public meetings, Civera said.

Once these new efforts are in place, Civera said, the county will be eligible to pursue grants and other funding sources that it had not been eligible for in the past.

During the last year, county officials have visited the Montgomery County Health Department, the state's health clinic in Chester, Crozer-Chester Medical Center, and Mercy Fitzgerald and Riddle Memorial Hospitals.

They have met with Upper Darby, Brookhaven, and Springfield Township health officials and the Delaware County Medical Society, and they have enlisted the Intermediate Unit, a regional education services agency, for input on how to effectively distribute information and vaccines in an emergency.

"We are going to be just as close to Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester as we can," said Civera, referring to neighboring counties that have full-time health departments.

The League of Women Voters, which has been pushing for a county-based health department, met with Civera in November.

Members say much of what the county has done so far is a repeat of what has been done by other groups.

"Why is it taking so long to correct problems and set up ways to do this thing?" asked Kate de Riel, 64, president of the Haverford Township League of Women Voters. "Everyone is patiently waiting."

She said that without a health department, the county does not qualify for many federal and state dollars.

Lack of a central health department has caused some confusion for those outside the county.

Rosemarie O'Malley Halt, a member of the Working Group for a Delaware County Health Department, a private nonprofit group, said that in November she received an e-mail from the Cape May health department alerting her that a Delaware County resident had been bitten by a possibly rabid bat.

It was sent to her, she said, because "they could not find out who to call in Delaware County."

Some townships see the need for a health department as well.

Radnor Township passed a resolution in December encouraging Delaware County to establish a health department.

The township sent a letter to county officials informing them of the vote.

"We have never gotten any feedback," said John C. Nagle, a Radnor commissioner.


Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or mschaefer@phillynews.com.

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