About ten years ago, both Lehigh and Northampton Counties considered, but ultimately rejected, a bi-county health department. Former NorCo Exec John Stoffa argued for this regionalism, noting that a contagious disease knows no boundaries. There were numerous fierce advocates, including NorCo Council member Peg Ferraro and LC Comm'r Percy Dougherty. But the price tag, lack of financial assistance from wealthy area hospitals and added layer of government bureaucracy doomed it. In hindsight, was this the right call?
"Why create a health department when we can't afford the level of government we have now?" asked then Council member Ron Angle. "Why lead people on such a trip if you don't have the ability to buy a car?"
At the time it was under consideration, it would have cost both counties about $500,000 per year and would have absorbed separate health departments within the cities.
Dr. David Lyon, who headed the now defunct health department, explained some of the difficulties encountered: "Everybody wants someone else to make the commitment first. Allentown wants to know what Bethlehem's prepared to do. The County wants to know what the cities are prepared to do. The hospitals want to know what government's prepared to do."
There were also questions whether a regional department would have been beneficial to anyone outside the cities. Would someone in Portland or Slatington really be helped the same way as someone living in the heart of the Lehigh Valley's cities? Proponents thought so, but I was dubious.
This was a rare instance in which Angle and Lamont McClure were on the same page. They both opposed the idea. So did I.
After a year of Covid-19, did we miss an opportunity?
My personal opinion is No. Counties that have active health departments seemed to have done no better in responding to this public health crisis,and may have actually done worse than we did.
What do you think?