Lancaster City Council passed a resolution Tuesday in support of the “prompt” establishment of a Lancaster County department of health.
The resolution also requests that the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners initiate a working group to evaluate the idea of a health department and to make recommendations by the end of a year. The resolution passed unanimously with six council members in attendance. Council member Pete Soto was absent.
“It’s overdue,” council member Xavier Garcia-Molina said.
The Manheim Township Board of Commissioners last month passed a similar resolution, then sent a letter to every school district and municipality in Lancaster County urging them to do the same.
Columbia and Denver boroughs also have backed a county department in some way. On Monday, Denver Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution not specifically calling for the establishment of a department of health but calling for the county to form a working group to evaluate and make a recommendation related to such.
“Just so our constituents don't necessarily think we are spitting into the wind … between the four municipalities, (that’s) more than 110,000 Lancastrians — just so far — whose representatives will have resolved directly to the county commissioners,” Lancaster City Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El said. He noted that the board has signaled a willingness to engage in conversation.
“I hope that seeing that tens of thousands of their constituents do, in fact, want this will help spur them to further action,” he said.
Mayor Danene Sorace thanked council for the resolution and spoke about why she wants to see a Lancaster County department of health.
She noted that although key coalitions have formed to tackle specific issues including COVID-19, there is no single entity minding their collective work.
Sorace said Lancaster is fortunate to have hardworking medical leaders and resources in the community.
“However, let’s be very clear about this,” she said. “By relying on private entities, we are also outsourcing public health to organizations that are balancing their own organizational priorities, capacities and finances with the needs of the public.”
The mayor noted that just before COVID-19 struck, city officials were close to completing a feasibility study in partnership with Penn Medicine to launch a health department in the city.
“The pandemic, obviously, made it immediately and abundantly clear that a city focus would not meet the need,” she said. “Nothing less than a county approach would work.”
She said a health department would add the value of leadership and coordination rooted in science; key monitoring and reporting of data; and accountability and transparency.
“At best, our current efforts are fragmented, unduly influenced by politics and lacking vision,” Sorace said. “Let’s take note of the emerging support of across Lancaster County for a countywide health department.”