Delaware County has officially dropped the infamous distinction of being the largest county in the United States without its own health department.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health had previously granted Delco’s health department final approval on Feb. 28, but before the county could get to work, it had to provide written notices to all 49 municipalities — which it did on March 3 and wait an additional 30 days.
The waiting period expired on April 2, formally marking the birth of the Delaware County Health Department.
“I’ve been saying we are really at the starting line. This is where we begin, but I’m excited to share that within each of our departments many of the standard operating procedures are in full swing,” said Melissa Lyon, the new health director, at Wednesday’s county council meeting.
Delco’s newest government body was rather busy during its first week being fully operational. While April 2 was the first day the health department could act in its full capacity, that important day fell on Saturday — meaning the real work got started on Monday, April 4.
“While I’m a bit remiss that I didn’t plan great festivities for our department and the staff, we did the biggest thing that any public health department could have done in National Public Health Week and that is start to be a public health department and deliver our operational responsibilities,” Lyon said.
Under the guidance of the Environmental Health Division, inspectors went into the field to monitor and enforce county, state, and federal health codes.
They also spent time addressing public health complaints and environmental inquiries that the department received through Delco’s upgraded Wellness Line, which falls under the responsibility of the Population Health Division.
“When you call there are very few prompts before you actually have a live person pick up our phone, find out what your question is, what we can help you with, and then move you through our process on our return call or giving you an answer when you call,” Lyon said.
In addition to inspections, the Health Department also provided personal protection equipment to several homeless shelters in Delco.
Back in October, Delco made the news for reaching a 20-year high in syphilis case rates, concerning county health officials who, at that time, didn’t have the full force of a health department to address it.
Now, things are starting to change.
“To address the increase in reported cases of STIs or sexually transmitted infections across Delaware County, we were able to set up and run its first STI clinic in the Chester area,” Lyon said.
The county also had several other things on its health agenda including tackling its first case of tuberculosis with medicated management, and arranging a small clinic to launch the Vaccine for Children Program to support a family from Ukraine with two school-aged children residing in Media.
COVID-19, of course, is still an issue facing Delco. Lyon added that while the percentage of cases is increasing slightly, community spread is still low. Vaccine clinics in Delco are seeing a rise in visitors with the Food and Drug Administration’s recent recommendation for an additional booster for those ages 50 and up.
Regardless of the obstacles that the department might face in the future, Lyon assured the county council that she is up to the challenge.
After thanking her for providing the update, county officials took the time to celebrate “promises kept, promises delivered,” as Councilmember Kevin Madden said.
Council chair Monica Taylor called it a “monumental week,” pointing to the county also taking back control over the George W. Hill Correctional Facility from a for-profit company.
Taylor thanked various county officials including Rosemarie Halt, the chair of the County Board of Health, for their roles in pulling off the feat.
“Thank you to the state. Although frustrating at times, they have been a continued spot of support all throughout this entire process,” Taylor said.
Concluding her remarks, Taylor emphasized that this is only the beginning.
“We have serious public health issues to address in our community and we have disparities to address, but this is going to be something that is going to be here for decades to come — generations to come and to help improve the public health of Delaware County. So I’m so excited to be here at this point and glad for all the work that is being done and will be done,” Taylor said.