Lehigh and Northampton counties’ proposal to create a bi-county health department have gone off-track, with political supporters saying they no longer have the backing for the innovative department. That’s a shame, because a regional health authority was a smart way to improve public health:
Unlike hospitals, a health department would enforce regulations for clean air, clean water, waste disposal, restaurants and day-care centers, and work on bioterrorism preparedness. Like city health bureaus, a regional bureau would control and treat communicable disease outbreaks; set up child immunization clinics; and teach about family planning, healthy pregnancy and diet and exercise.
Robert Black, of the Health Board, said a public health department would oversee things like hospitals’ response to disease outbreaks, and accepting financial support could pose a conflict of interest.
“We don’t believe it’s the responsibility of hospitals to underwrite or fund a public health department,” he said.
Even longtime supporters said the timing is off. “The best thing for us to do now as Northampton County and Lehigh County is perhaps to table that ordinance and put it on the back burner until things are able to shift themselves out at the county and at the state,” Councilman Mike Dowd said, referring to tight budgets.