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Cities Interested In Contracting With Pasadena’s Health Department

Pasadena’s public health agency is independent of the county but still bound by state law

Published on Wednesday, December 2, 2020 | 12:28 pm

Officials from other cities unhappy with L.A. County’s recent health order have expressed interest in contracting with the Pasadena Health Department, a city official told Pasadena Now.

After seeing restaurants and other businesses forced to close under provisions of the county’s recent health order, officials with the cities of Whittier, Beverly Hills, West Covina, Hawaiian Gardens, Lancaster, and Santa Clarita have expressed interest in breaking away from the county jurisdiction and adopting the Pasadena model, which allows the city to roll out its own health orders.

But even if the cities are interested in a contracting deal, the jurisdiction of the Pasadena Public Health Department is defined by the state and its authority is limited to Pasadena. 

“We understand the challenging times that many cities are facing, and hopefully they are communicating with the county,” said city Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian.

“There is so much more involved in a health department than just restaurants, which has been the focus recently,” said Derderian.

Although the county’s recent health order forced other cities and unincorporated towns to ban all in-person dining, and offer only take out, Pasadena kept its restaurants open and instead moved toward a more aggressive accountability model in which events and restaurants that violated COVID-19 protocols were shut down.

Other cities throughout the region praised the move and began to take notice of the benefits of having an independent health department. 

“The outcry from the public regarding last week’s decision by the county Department of Public Health to arbitrarily close outdoor dining proves that local communities should have input into any of the decisions that deeply affect their residents and businesses,” L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger told Pasadena Now.

Barger, who serves as chair of the board, voted against the county order, which passed 3-2. Supervisor Janice Hahn joined Barger in voting against the order.

“I fully support any efforts by local elected officials who are pursuing opportunities to ensure their local voice is heard. We must also address the problematic nature of countywide health mandates and instead target health orders more locally as efforts to slow the transmission of COVID continue,” Barger said.

Pasadena saw the benefit of independence in 1886 when city leaders became the second city in the county to incorporate and shortly thereafter prohibited saloons.

Six years later, the “dry” city established the Pasadena Public Health Department.

In the late 19th- and early 20th-century, it was common for cities to operate their own public health departments or boards of public health. But at that time, advances in science revealed limitations of a city-based model since the spread of infectious disease was not restricted by city borders.

Infrastructure, like water delivery, sewer maintenance, and food storage and preparation systems that were known to reduce health hazards, also required a regional approach to implementing and maintaining.

In the field of public health, L.A. County transitioned from indigent care (primarily operating hospitals for the poor) to a more central public health role in 1915 when the first health officer was hired. Over time, the county assumed more public health responsibilities. By the 1920s, cities throughout the county began closing their health departments, opting instead to collaborate with the county to provide for the public’s health.

Pasadena is one of three cities in the county to keep their health departments. Long Beach and Vernon are the other two. 

In 1943, the state reorganized the State Board of Public Health into its current form. With new regulatory authority established in the California Health and Safety Code, the California Department of Public Health coordinated state public health activities in collaboration with health officers in each local health jurisdiction. 

“While operating at the local level, each health officer is in practical terms an extension of the state,” Derderian said. “Pasadena is an independent local health jurisdiction, which explains why county health officer orders do not apply within city limits. That said, the lessons learned over 100 years ago still apply today. Pasadena coordinates with the county to align our orders and other practices with the thinking that a regional approach is most effective, especially with infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Pasadena is able to issue health orders that are more restrictive but not less restrictive than state health orders.”

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