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Advocates Make New Case for Bi-County Health Department

68 percent of Lehigh Valley residents favor bi-county agency, according to Muhlenberg survey.

Anticipating a Sept. 1 Northampton County Council vote that may kill the still-nascent Bi-County Health Department once and for all, advocates came together this afternoon to present new information championing its survival.

Perhaps most politically compelling to the decision makers is that a little more than two-thirds of Lehigh Valley residents are in favor of establishing a new health department to serve both counties.

This is according to the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, which recently conducted its annual Lehigh Valley quality of life survey of residents of Lehigh and Northampton counties.

At a news conference at the offices of the , Ilene Prokop, chairwoman of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health, read a statement that was heavy with the results of this survey.

She also presented new information on the disparities in services given to Allentown and Bethlehem residents who have government health departments and to those living outside the cities who don't have such departments.

For Allentown and Bethlehem residents, those differences include a greater frequency of immunization clinics for children and adults, testing for West Nile virus, free screening and treatment for tuberculosis, and more frequent health and sanitation inspections of child-care centers and restaurants. Additionally, the Allentown and Bethlehem health departments conduct safety and sanitation inspections of schools, while no such inspections are conducted anywhere else in the two counties.

Prokop also outlined information about , such as poor health status, low birth weights and obesity rates, which exceed national averages in both counties.

Despite the new arguments and information, Northampton County Executive John Stoffa and County Councilman Mike Dowd -- both advocates of a bi-county department -- said they believe council will vote to repeal the county’s authorization for the department on Sept. 1.

They are hoping that council will instead table the repeal vote to give the economy more time to heal and reduce concerns that the department is not affordable. A repeal would kill any chance of a department for a long time to come, Stoffa and Dowd agreed.

“Until everyone comes together on this issue, which I don’t believe they are, I’d prefer to see it tabled,” Stoffa said.

If Northampton County kills the bi-county department, Lehigh County Commissioner Percy Dougherty, also a department advocate, would not give much hope to the idea that a single-county bureau would be able to go it alone. It is uncertain that the state would approve such an arrangement or that Lehigh County’s political climate would support a countywide department, he said.

Further, he seemed somewhat pessimistic that support for the bi-county department would hold into next year, given the fiscally conservative who have been nominated for commissioner.

“Unless something is done now, the future is very bleak,” Dougherty said.

The Muhlenberg survey indicated a lack of understanding around the cost of establishing the new department, Prokop said. The most common answer was between $100 and $500 per household in the Lehigh Valley. The actual cost is estimated at less than $10 per household, Prokop said.

“When people understand the issue, they believe it to be a cost-effective way to address an important issue,” Prokop said.

The 68 percent of those surveyed by Muhlenberg who favor a new Bi-County Health Department include 73 percent of women and 62 percent of men. Only 17 percent of those surveyed were opposed to a new department, while 15 percent were undecided.

“While the economic and political climate in the Lehigh Valley, the state and the rest of the country has changed, the need to improve our public health infrastructure in the Lehigh Valley remains strong, if we are to preserve and protect the health of all of our citizens,” Prokop said.

“The question that the health commission should ask is not, ‘Can we afford to have a regional health department?’ but rather, ‘Can we afford not to?’"

KB August 23, 2011 at 11:53 PM
I'm confused. If there is no "public health" outside the cities, what do the state health centers do in the Lehigh Valley? I thought those were the "county" health departments that did the free immunizations for kids and other things.
An interested bystander August 24, 2011 at 12:15 AM
Cities are also significant drains - Philly's pension deficit alone is almost $3 billion (Philly Business Journal 4/8/11). This is the result of decades of mismanagement and not just the result of the 2008-09 market drop. Why is it the rural areas' responsibility to funnel more cash to cities that have shown they can't handle their own affairs?
Chris Miller August 24, 2011 at 01:11 PM
It appears that Muhlenberg did not do a very good job with thier survey. Who did they check their staff and students. Those of you who enjoy spending i suggest you begin to understand that the bucks are not out there for more toys.
Jon Geeting August 24, 2011 at 01:26 PM
It's not the rural areas' responsibility to "funnel more cash to cities", but it's certainly not the cities' job to funnel more cash to unproductive rural areas. My point is that a *neutral* policy from Harrisburg, where everybody gets roughly the share of state funds that they contribute in GDP would result in significantly more money flowing from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Lehigh Valley than is currently the case. My view is that state and federal government incentives should nudge people toward big metros, not away from them as is currently the case. Migration to low-density areas is absolutely killing US productivity. Chris, that's pathetic. You just think it's a bad poll because it revealed that youir position is unpopular. The margin of error is +/- 5%. If anything it's probably underestimating the level of support since most of the respondents valued these services at $100-500 a year and *a supermajority still said yes*.
Chris Miller August 24, 2011 at 04:16 PM
As one who has lived in a rural now suburban area for well over 50 years. I would remind you that rural areas provide those of you in the cities with an item called food. Sadly most people do not have a clue as to how those things in cellophane wrap and cans get filled with tomatoes, beans, peas and meat. Many people would starve to death if it weren't for those rural areas. We have poured scads of money into the cites and what has it got us. Allentown, use to be known as the Queen city now the place is a dumb run by a dumbo and his spawned staff. It is not a safe place and to think just a few years back you went there to see Santa Clause. To make matters worse the stealing and more has spread to the outlying communities and sections of what was once a proud city. Let me note that Easton is right behind it and Bethlehem is on the way. This after millions have been sent there by the outlanders. Let's also toss in the two hell holes Philly and Pittsburg. So your solution is to poor more money into these rat holes. As to the poll, just for you it was a bit of tongue in cheek. But given the nature of polls today, people do lie in polls, i really don't believe them particularly when it comes from a liberal institution like a college. You would be the pathetic one here Jon for not doing your home work and not realizing that they are loaded.

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