Opposition Mounts Against Creation of City Public Health Department

Health care providers, business groups and Los Angeles City officials told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday they oppose the upcoming ballot initiative that seeks to create a new health department for the city of Los Angeles, severing ties from the L.A. County Department of Public Health, saying it would be dangerous to the public, cost millions to taxpayers and confuse residents about where to go for help.

The initiative, which will go before Los Angeles City voters in June 2014, seeks to immediately terminate the 1964 contract between the city and the county, which transferred public health responsibilities to the county. The measure also would require the city to create a separate public health department within 120 days and prohibit any future contracts with the county to provide public health services in the city. Should the measure prevail, the county would be prohibited from providing public health services to the city as soon as the election is certified, usually about 10 days. The city estimates, however, that it could take up to two years for it to establish a new department.

“The initiative would create an immediate gap in the provision of public health services and public health protection,” said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

According to estimates by the City of Los Angeles, which currently projects a $150 million to $250 million budget deficit, the cost of implementing and maintaining a new health department is roughly $330 million.

“The city is incapable, at this time, to take on this new duty. But even if the city was not under the current fiscal challenges it’s confronting, the way this initiative is drafted it would be impossible for us to implement the level of services the residents of Los Angeles currently received under your department,” said Miguel Santana, city administrative officer.

The initiative is not in the best interest of the public, opponents said.

“This initiative is the definition of bad public policy,” said Ruben Gonzalez, vice president of public policy for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. “Its negative impacts are severe and across the board. It will hurt business, it will impact job creation. It’s a public policy tantrum.”

Among other consequences, the initiative would reduce the county’s ability to mitigate public health disasters, respond to natural and man-made emergencies, reduce chronic disease, address communicable and vector-borne diseases, abate environmental health hazards, inform consumers of health threats and new policies and offer preventive health services for communicable diseases at convenient locations.

“Our duty, our responsibility is to guard public health. Plain and simple this initiative is wrongheaded and destructive and it will compromise public health,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “The whole thing is ill-conceived and ought to be rejected.”