Pa. Department of Health to manage coronavirus-related services for Delco

Delaware County has no health department, so Chester County handled its pandemic response until now. The new arrangement begins Aug. 1.

Amy Zoll, a volunteer with the Citizen Corps of Delaware County, becomes the first person to be vaccinated at the ribbon cutting for the new Delaware County Wellness Center. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

Amy Zoll, a volunteer with the Citizen Corps of Delaware County, becomes the first person to be vaccinated at the ribbon cutting for the new Delaware County Wellness Center. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

Taking the baton from the Chester County Health Department, the Pennsylvania Department of Health will handle coronavirus-related health services for Delaware County effective Aug. 1.

Delco has never had a county health department, though it is currently aiming to establish one by January 2022. Chester County has been leading the way on COVID-19 services for the past 16 months — an intergovernmental cooperation agreement formally announced back in March 2020 to ensure that Delco had enough help to address the pandemic.

“You learn a lot about people when the chips are down. It is one thing to answer the bell when it’s in your own backyard, but quite another when it’s a little more distant. I find it remarkable that Chester County was willing to step up, and I offer a heartfelt ‘Thank You,’” Delaware County Council Chair Brian Zidek said during the press conference announcing the partnership.

The Chester County Commissioners and Delaware County Council members were honored by the Main Line Chamber of Commerce for their involvement in the partnership, whose end was announced by Delco officials on July 8.

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“Chester County needs to get back to doing what they were doing as a health department. They were all hands on deck just dedicated to COVID, and not doing as much of what they were doing as a health department as a whole. And having a whole nother 565,000 people is a lot,” Delaware County Council Vice Chair Monica Taylor said in an interview Friday. “I think this was a good time to part ways and, you know, get ready for our health department to come on board in January.”

In a statement Friday announcing the transfer of responsibilities to the state, Zidek again extended his gratitude to Chester County for stepping up during a time of need.

The services that the state Department of Health will soon have control over in Delco are vaccination oversight, coronavirus testing, data reporting, official guidance, case surveillance and investigation, and public health communications.

“Remember that the Pennsylvania Department of Health has still been in the county for everything non-COVID,” Taylor said.

Delco’s steps toward its own health department

A positive effect of Chester County’s assistance with COVID-related services is that it helped Delaware County get a jump on building its own public health infrastructure, such as the wellness center in Yeadon and various vaccination clinics.

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Overall, Delco is still on schedule for a January 2022 health department debut. But it’s still looking for its first health department director. Plus, the county has quite a few other positions to fill.

“We are hiring. We have about 65 full-time employees that we will be looking to hire over the next few months. So we will be doing it more in blocks starting in September,” Taylor said.

The county is hoping to staff its environmental health division first, followed by the nursing unit, the personal health unit, and the population health unit.

It got a bit of a head start on that too, Taylor said.

“There are several employees that are able to transition from being employees just from our COVID response to employees into the health department, so that’s been really nice,” she said.

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