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Study urges changes in Delco health system

Delaware County's public-health system lacks coordination and leadership, and needs both to increase residents' awareness of programs and to improve some lagging health trends, a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded.

Delaware County's public-health system lacks coordination and leadership, and needs both to increase residents' awareness of programs and to improve some lagging health trends, a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded.

The study, commissioned by the county in 2008, was designed to look at the delivery of public-health services, identify gaps in coverage, and make recommendations to remedy shortfalls. Last year, the Hopkins investigators met with 11 public-health organizations in the county to get a general sense of public health, and sent out a short survey for residents.

The study was funded by a $50,000 state grant.

The Inquirer obtained a copy of the final draft of the five-page Executive Summary yesterday.

Johns Hopkins investigators will present the study to the county's Health Advisory Board in a closed-door meeting today. The board and council members already have received copies.

Study investigators made four overall recommendations:

The county must address the leadership void, especially in the area of emergency preparedness and general public-health outreach.

A "centralized system" for public-health information and services is needed.

The public-health infrastructure should be strengthened and additional funding obtained.

A health task force should be established, including representation from nonprofit, community, and health-care groups.

The report stopped short of declaring the need for a county-based health department.

In the past, county officials said they did not see a need for a county-based health department. They believed that residents were served with the existing services, that municipalities would be opposed to the formation of a centralized department, and that there would be an added cost to taxpayers.

Now, their position seems to be softening.

A Delaware County health department was "not out of the question," Councilman Thomas J. McGarrigle said.

He said he agreed with most of the study's findings and thought the county should implement the suggestions immediately. McGarrigle said he planned to visit the Montgomery County Health Department and the state-run clinic in Chester City.

Johns Hopkins concluded that the study sample was not completely representative. Only 1,090 residents - 0.2 percent of the county population - responded to the study questionnaire.

An 18-question survey in six languages was posted on the county Web site and made available at libraries, senior centers, and community centers.

The respondents tended to be English-speaking, white women who had lived in the county for more than 10 years, owned homes, were in "better" general health, and had health insurance, the study said.

"Public health in Delaware County does not function as a system" was the message investigators heard from both meetings and surveys, according to the study. The results noted that the state has very little "known presence" in the county outside the state-run health clinic in Chester.

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