Delaware County residents would benefit from leadership in and coordination of public health systems, according to a study discussed Wednesday night at a rare nighttime County Council meeting.

The study also identified gaps in coverage that indicate room for improvement in such areas as outreach for smoking and alcohol consumption, bicycle helmet use, Lyme disease, and sexually transmitted diseases.

About 50 people attended the meeting with the council and researchers.

In June 2008, the county contracted with Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health to survey its public health services and identify needs. The study was funded with a $50,000 state grant.

Though county officials have long opposed establishing a health department, they promised to address the concerns raised in the study.

"This county is in no way going to walk away from what we have in the report," Councilman Mario Civera said.

Rosemarie O'Malley Halt of the Working Group for a Delaware County Health Department said residents were losing out on tax money that would be returned to the county if it had a health department. She said the average cost to taxpayers of establishing an agency would be from two to five dollars per person.

The study recommended that the county address its leadership void, especially in the areas of emergency preparedness and general public health outreach.

Delaware is the largest county in the state without a health department, but many smaller counties do without one.