What is the Jurisdiction of the Long Beach Health Department?

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By Gerrie Schipske

As Long Beach grapples with the public health crisis of our lifetime, it is important to understand the difference in the scope of authority of a governmental public health department. If counties are responsible for public health, why does the City of Long Beach operate its own public health department? Are there any other cities that are independent of their county? Why?

Q. Who is responsible for public health?

A. The federal government directs public health programs through the United States Public Health Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration.

At the state level, the United States has 51 state health departments (including the District of Columbia’s) and approximately 2,800 local health agencies. The majority of states also have local health agencies. The states give authority to the public health departments of the counties, to respond to public health issues.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has jurisdiction for the entire county except for the cities of Long Beach and Pasadena. These two cities, and Berkeley, established their own public health departments when their cities were first established. Long Beach can issue its own public health orders.

Q. What kinds of services does the Long Beach Public Health Department provide?

A. The Long Beach Department of Public Health and Human Services (DHHS) offers numerous programs through its bureaus: The Bureau of Community Health, Housing Authority Bureau, Bureau of Environmental Health, Bureau of Physician Services and Bureau of Policy, Planning and Prevention. Its clinics provide testing, immunization

Q. What are the authorities of public health agencies?

A. Depending upon the level of government, public health agencies have “police powers” and are allowed to impose restrictions on “private rights for the sake of public welfare, order and security.” These powers are given to the local health officer, who is usually a physician.

Q. Who can enforce local public health orders?

A. The county sheriff and local police can enforce orders of the local health officer.

Q. How are the programs funded for DHHS?

A. Local taxpayer funds pay little toward operating the health department. Most funding comes through grants. The mayor and City Council have decided for many years not to directly fund a health department and have substantially cut staff and services. According to its website: “With 300 employees located in nine sites throughout the city, the Health Department operates with a $117 million annual budget, 99% of which comes from federal, state, county and private funds.”

 Q. Who controls the city’s Department of Public Health?

A. The mayor and City Council fund the department which is under the management of the city manager. The department is managed by a director who oversees the public health officer. Currently, the director is Kelly Colopy. The public health officer is Dr. Anissa Davis.

Q. What is the role of the city’s appointed Board of Health and Human Services?

A. This board is one of the five contained in the City Charter. It is comprised of 15 members who serve in an advisory capacity “to consult with and advise the department director, the council and city manager on any matter relating to the funding of social services to community based organizations and to the public health in the city, including the health of victims of crimes and health services related to prisoners of the city jail, as well as community health safety issues concerning the control and protection of all animals within the city, or matters connected with the administration of DHHS and to conduct hearings on matters pertaining to the public health and social service affairs of the city and to report any findings or recommendations to the proper authorities for action.”

Gerrie Schipske is a Registered Nurse Practitioner and healthcare attorney who served on the City Council for 8 years, the Medical Board of California for nine years and the Long Beach Board of Health and Human Services for nine years.

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