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from www.dailynews.com – A threat to create a new Los Angeles city health department, separate from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, drew opposition from the City Council on Tuesday even as signatures on an initiative petition are being reviewed.
The council voted 11-1 to oppose the proposal from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, after county Chief Executive Officer Bill Fujioka and health director Jonathan Fielding [pictured] cautioned the city would be facing initial costs of more than $50 million to replicate the services the county now provides.
AHF has turned in some 70,000 signatures to qualify a ballot measure for a June 2014 vote that would create a city health agency because it complains the county department is too big and moves too slowly to efficiently protect public health and reduce the spread of disease. The city had its own health agency but disbanded it in the 1960s.
Councilman Paul Koretz voted against the resolution, saying he wants a full financial impact report before making a decision.
Council President Herb Wesson said the measure asked for a financial report to be returned to the City Council on June 19 when it is expected to consider the initiative.
Fielding said a city agency would not qualify for certain funding sources that now go to the county and it would not be able to replicate programs on disease prevention, environmental health and other issues. He also said the city of Los Angeles is so large that it would need to invest a great deal to replicate what the county provides, from disease prevention to health clinics.
“I wake up every morning with one concern and that is what are the threats to the health of everybody in Los Angeles County, including the city of Los Angeles,” said Fielding, whose department has more than 4,400 workers and an annual budget of $832 million.
Fielding said proponents of the measure argue the costs of the agency will be covered by fees charged for services.
“Separating city public health services from the county could prove challenging,” Fielding said. “Dividing public health responsibilities could complicate and compromise our ability to quickly and appropriately respond to public health threats.”
He argued it also could create confusion in the medical community on the reporting of infectious and communicable diseases.
AHF president Michael Weinstein argued a smaller city health department would be more responsive to the concerns of residents.
“If we thought this would be an easy lift with the City Council, we wouldn’t have had to circulate the petitions,” Weinstein said. “We will be able to compare the record of the county and see how well it is serving the city of Los Angeles. This is not about politics, this is about health.”
Weinstein said he wants to see an election and full debate on the issue.
“We think a local health department does a better job than the county does now,” Weinstein said. “It is closer to the people it serves.”
The county Health Department and the AHF have been at odds over the years on a variety of issues, most recently over an audit saying the foundation overbilled the county by $1.7 million.
The city might be in a difficult position if the AHF has turned in enough valid signatures to require an election. Under the City Charter, the council has no choice but to either create the agency as called for or call the special election to leave the matter to voters.