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  • Writer's pictureChristine Reuther

It Is Better To Know: Delco Needs to Track the Data

The news about the decrease in life expectancy in Philadelphia is not good nor are the reasons for it. What is good is that Philadelphia tracks the data and can measure progress or the lack of it. It can also point out which communities are bearing the brunt of health problems. Philadelphia has a Public Health Department that can target resources and inform choices made by all county departments to improve life expectancy and quality of life.

Delaware County does not have a health department. It has no central repository for collecting data on essential points like overdoses, treatment referrals, treatment outcomes, hospitalizations from violence or the types of weapons used, if any, or influenza and other viral outbreaks. There are places that collect data relevant to the County, including school districts that collect immunization data and report it to the state and laboratories that collect information on certain kinds of sexually transmitted diseases. But the data is limited and often does not have sufficient specificity to allow public health agencies to determine how best to allocate resources. In addition, there is no public health infrastructure to share information about public health emergencies. When a ZIKA outbreak occurred, other Counties sent public health officials. Delaware County sent a member of County Council who does not have a health care background.

Delaware County has the 5th largest population of any county in Pennsylvania (out of 67). It is the second most densely populated county after Philadelphia. It is number 3 on the list of counties with the highest number of overdose deaths. It is time for the County to step up its game. State and federal funding is available to improve public health monitoring and outcomes. Of course, that money comes with accountability requirements. That is something the Republican leadership in Delco has long sought to avoid. The constant refrain has been that Delaware County taxpayers would wind up picking up the tab for the department to the extent it is not funded by others. That is true. But we pay for a staff at the Delaware County Office of Intercommunity Health that largely directs county residents and researchers to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and private or non-profit organizations. The office does not employ anyone with public health credentials. What is the return on that investment? The County only recently began offering flu shot clinics. The Intercommunity Health Office web page used to post ads for clinics offered by local drug store chains.

There are lots of excuses not to have a health department. In 2017, Marianne Grace, the Delaware County Executive said, "Why would the County want to depend on funding from the state?" I think we would want to do that because otherwise we don't get the services the state is willing to fund. Health departments are not free. But they are not as costly as critics make out. Chester County has consistently found that, to run its Health Department, the cost to the county after grants and fees is $1 million. In 2017, that was $1.95 per resident, in Chesco. If Delco obtained the same grants and spent the same amount, the cost would be $1.77 per resident per year.

We can do better. We must do better. Delaware County is likely suffering from the same kind of diminution in life expectancy that Philadelphia is experiencing. We just don't know it.

Change starts now. Let's endorse candidates who can win the 3 seats up on County Council and bring change to our county government.

Links to More Information:

"Philadelphia's Opioid and Gun Crises are Cutting Life Expectancy, Report Finds," by Aubrey Whelan, Updated: January 4, 2019- 5:00 AM

Delaware County PA Office of Intercommunity Health,

Montgomery County Office of Public Health,

Pennsylvania Department of Health Information on County and Local Health Departments,

"Despite Pa. incentives, why county health departments haven't gone viral," by Michaelle Bond, Posted: November 6, 2017 ://

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps,

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