Masks

Allison Smith, left, and Camila Huber, both of Millersville, wear masks while walking outside Central Market in Lancaster city Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.

The top official at Lancaster County's largest health care system says the lack of a public health department complicates efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During Thursday's open meeting of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health's board of directors, CEO Jan Bergen noted the importance of a coordinated response.

"There is no question that in our community a formalized community response is difficult without a public health department," she said. "That has been incorporated as an initiative into our strategic plan in recognition of how absolutely essential it is."

Bergen’s statement marks perhaps the closest the county’s largest health provider has come to endorsing the creation of a public health department.

When LNP | LancasterOnline followed up with questions about LGH’s stance, LGH spokesperson John Lines said the “that” in the second sentence of Bergen’s statement referred to “a formalized community response” and not “a public health department.”

Lines said creating a public health department is not part of the health system's strategic plan.

"Instead, she was referencing the value of an infrastructure, at a county level, which can help respond to public health emergencies," Lines wrote in an email. "The remaining elements of a public health department, we do not have an opinion on."

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Lines declined to make Bergen available to clarify her remarks. Bergen's statement can be found at 1:11:30 in the board meeting video on the health system's Youtube channel.

Calls for creating a county health agency date back more than a decade and were renewed earlier this year as COVID-19 began spreading. Five of the state's seven largest counties by population have health departments. Lancaster and Delaware counties are the exception, though Delaware County officials say they are planning to create one.

Creating a public health department would require the support of Lancaster County's Board of Commissioners, two of whose members have voiced doubts about the need for one.

"We are proud of the collaboration we have had with LGH, and I am unsure what Ms. Bergen meant by that as we have had continuous communication with LGH and neither she nor any LGH representatives have ever said that to us directly," Parsons said Thursday.

Parsons has told LNP | LancasterOnline in the past that he is skeptical a county health department would have delivered better results during the pandemic.

Commissioner Craig Lehman called for a public health department several times over his time in office, including as recently as May, a position which he reaffirmed Thursday.

In May, Parsons and D'Agostino expressed some openness to a conversation about creating a public health department, and both talked about conducting an "after action review" to determine what went well and what didn't with the county's pandemic response.

D'Agostino said he did not have the opportunity to listen to the meeting yet but said he has not heard any complaints from LGH.

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