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Cities Consider Starting Their Own Health Departments

Pasadena model becomes popular as L.A. County shutters in-person dining

Published on Monday, November 30, 2020 | 5:00 am
Photo from 1930’s showing Pasadena Public Health Dept. doctor drawing blood from a patient. Courtesy Pasadena Public Library

In an effort to keep businesses open, two cities are considering following the Pasadena model and starting their own health departments. 

Officials in Lancaster and Whittier are exploring the idea of joining with nearby cities to start a regional health department or starting autonomous health departments.

Lancaster has called for a special meeting on the matter. According to its agenda, the Lancaster City Council will hold a vote of no confidence against Los Angeles County Public Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer and direct staff to begin the process of gathering documentation and list resources to start its own public health department.

The Whittier City Council is also considering leaving the L.A. County Health Department. 

Because they are under the county’s jurisdiction, both cities were forced to close in-person dining at local restaurants last week.

“We are extremely disappointed in the decision made by the county to impose further restrictions on our already struggling local businesses who have suffered through a catastrophic year,” said Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri. 

“Although we recognize the actions taken are to preserve public health and safety, there has been no data, no science, to support a link between outdoor dining and a surge in COVID transmission,” Vinatieri said. 

“This is especially devastating to our restaurant owners, to their employees. and to their families who are most impacted as we begin the joyous holiday season,” he said.

For one thing, starting a health department would force cities to hire more employees. Several cities have enacted hiring bans during the pandemic. 

In Southern California, only Pasadena, Long Beach and Vernon have their own health departments. Because of this, they are not required to follow L.A. County Health Department decisions.

According to Pasadena Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian, the city’s Health Department allows more leverage in issuing and following health orders, although the city maintains relationships with the L.A. County Health Department and regularly communicates and coordinates with officials there. 

The city opted not to close in-person dining last week and has instead moved to a stronger enforcement model in an effort to maintain the local economy.

The city has had its own health department since 1892, according to Manual Carmona, Pasadena deputy health director.

Six years later, there were 10 incorporated cities in LA County, including Whittier, all with their own health departments.

“At the time, every city had their own health department, until science advanced the idea that contagious diseases don’t stop at city borders,” he said.

According to Carmona, the county started taking more responsibility, and many cities gave their public health department responsibilities over to the county

Pasadena did not shut down its Health Departments and maintained local control over public health issues while working closely with partners at the county level.

“Since 1892, the Pasadena Public Health Department has been responsible for helping protect, maintain and improve the health of the Pasadena community,” he said. “Pasadena’s Public Health Department is longstanding, and we never gave it up.”

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