by Ari Bloomekatz
A nonprofit healthcare group announced Friday that they filed enough signatures with election officials to qualify a ballot measure that would let Los Angeles residents vote on whether the city should have a Public Health Department separate from the county’s.
Officials with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has long been critical of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said they turned in roughly 70,000 signatures (50,000 of which they believe are valid) from residents who think voters should decide the issue, which would likely be in June 2014.
“We are heartened that…residents of the City of Los Angeles agree that this issue should be brought before the voters to decide whether or not to create a separate and independent City of Los Angeles Public Health Department,” Michael Weinstein, president of the foundation, said in a statement.
In the past, Weinstein said the county’s public health department does a poor job of disease control and is too big.
Most recently, the foundation strongly criticized the county’s handling of a few cases of meningitis and resulting public health concerns.
But many city and county officials worry that creating a separate city department could actually result in fewer services for residents. In March, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana told The Times that the city simply doesn’t have the money, expertise or facilities to enforce public health laws.
“It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the city to get in the business of healthcare,” Santana said. “The city is simply not in a position to take this on.”
The city once had its own health department but disbanded it in the 1960s and residents now rely on county services. The county department is charged with working to avoid infectious disease outbreaks, reduce chronic illnesses and maintain the safety of food and water in the city and county. They are also in charge of emergency preparedness for the county’s 10 million residents.