Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA City Council opposes creation of its own public health department

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of publi

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the County of Los Angeles, testified before the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday about the challenges of creating a new public health entity.

A proposal to create a city-operated Public Health Department was opposed by the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is backing the proposal for a municipal public health unit that would assume duties managed by Los Angeles County for nearly 50 years. The group claims the county's Public Health Department has become too big and ineffective. 

The L.A. County Department of Public Health is responsible for emergency preparedness, tracking diseases, operating health clinics, and supporting programs for STD, drug and alcohol treatment.

The foundation collected signatures to place the initiative on the June 2014 ballot. The City Clerk is in the process of verifying the 41,000-plus needed signatures. A financial analysis of the proposal will be presented to the City Council on June 19.

Los Angeles County has been responsible for the city’s public health needs since 1964. At that time, the agreement was executed to streamline operations and take public health costs off the city’s books. The proposed initiative calls for the city to end its practice of contracting with L.A. County. If approved, the proposal would make the city’s Public Health Department the only entity allowed to regulate and enforce public health laws in L.A. city limits.

"By creating a separate department in the City of Los Angeles, you will create a very, very difficult — and I think a disastrous — situation for our public health services in the county," said County CEO Bill Fujioka.  "What you don't see is what we do every single day when it comes to disease surveillance, when it comes to protecting the public's health."

The head of Public Health, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, spoke to the L.A. City Council about the difficulties of creating a new department.  

"Separating city public health services from the county’s could  prove challenging given the size and geography of the two jurisdictions," Fielding said. "Dividing public health responsibilities could  complicate and compromise our ability to quickly and appropriately respond to public health threats." 

Of L.A. County's 88 cities, Vernon, Long Beach and Pasadena each have their own public health department. 

When the financial analysis comes back next month, the L.A. City Council will vote whether to adopt the initiative as an ordinance or place it on the June 2014 ballot.

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