Delco funds Health Department start-up costs ahead of January debut

Dr. Monica Taylor is the vice chair of Delaware County Council. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Dr. Monica Taylor is the vice chair of Delaware County Council. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Delaware County Council has approved an increase in spending to fund start-up costs for the county’s new Health Department ahead of its January debut.

Using roughly $4.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act money, the county has increased the budget of the interim agency, known internally as the Intercommunity Health Department, to pay for salaries, supplies, and other necessary costs until the end of 2021.

In addition, the county has modified its capital improvement plan to shift $3.9 million to the needs of the new Health Department, such as design and information technology infrastructure for its future offices.

The County Council’s vice chair, Dr. Monica Taylor, said Wednesday that all this was being done “so that we’re ready to really start the Health Department once we get that final approval from the state in January.”

The county has also entered into a professional services agreement with Public Health Management Corp. to handle recruiting services for the department’s early phases.

County Council Chair Brian Zidek said he has heard more than enough uninformed arguments against formation of a county Health Department — specifically, that the effort will cost taxpayers “an arm and a leg.”

“Those who oppose the county Health Department were frequently heard to say, ‘Hey, it’s going to cost millions of dollars, and it’s just a waste, you don’t need it.’ I think the pandemic has shown the foolishness of the ‘you don’t need it part,’” Zidek said. “And the fact of the matter is, we’re going to get $10 million of health benefits here in the county, and the county is only going to have to spend $3 million to get it. And on top of that, we are able to use ARPA monies to pay that. So we’re not even going to need to touch tax dollars for the years 2021-2024.”

The Health Department’s evolution will happen in phases: the first in 2022; the second through 2026; and the final phase expected to be complete in 2027.

Though Delco will soon have the capacity to fight its own public health battles, those duties are now being handled by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Chester County previously ran point on Delco’s coronavirus response, offering guidance to Delaware County on important matters such as schools. That relationship ended Aug. 1.

Zidek said the transition has largely been smooth, though he has noticed a bit of a gap in one area of service from the previous Chesco leadership to the current state control.

“One of the big changes from my perspective is just our lack of insight as to what the data shows in Delaware County for positives. When Chester County was acting as our health department, we would get something from them … initially, we would get it daily, “ Zidek said.

“All of a sudden, when we talked the other day, I didn’t know how many cases we had the day before or the day before that. So that has been the biggest change for us, just less timely insight as to what is actually happening here in Delaware County.”

Taylor said the state is only providing countywide data, so Delco officials are in the dark now about how individual municipalities are stacking up against the virus.

With the more contagious delta variant taking hold across the country, many have pointed to vaccination rates as a primary indicator whether an area can effectively combat the current COVID-19 wave. Luckily for Delco, Taylor said, more people are lining up for the shots.

“We actually have seen an uptick in folks coming in, walk-ins coming in, and coming into some of the pop-up clinics,” Taylor said.

She also credited the city of Chester for its recent advertising of community vaccination events alongside their health partners to raise vaccination rates.

Taylor said people were fooled into thinking that the pandemic took a summer break.

“Now, with the resurgence of the delta variant, I think it’s back in the forefront,” she said. “And so it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, I was supposed to get vaccinated. Let me go ahead and do that.’ Or maybe they were a little hesitant, but now they’re starting to move towards getting the vaccine.”

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