The Center County government has decided not to move forward with creating its own Act 315 health department due to financial considerations.
Although the county had “compelling” data on health information within Center County, Commissioner Michael Pipe said now is not the appropriate time to move forward with creating a local health office.
The conversation about a local health department has been ongoing since the COVID-19 pandemic. Act 315, the state local health administration law, provides funding to improve local health administration and assist counties and municipalities in establishing health departments. The county allocated $12,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act funds toward a local health department feasibility study in October 2021 to determine if it would benefit from its own health department.
Pipe said the initial report didn’t have a cost estimate and when they received an additional addendum, it was only provided at the base minimum. But when looking at other county health offices, he said none of them do the minimum. Plus, other counties that have created health departments during the last several years have experienced many unknown costs, he said.
“As we’ve talked through some of our budget discussions, you know, we have a lean budget, a focused budget, and this is going to be a big lift that I think many of us believe that this is not the appropriate time for the county to create a health office, if it would ever occur,” Pipe said.
Steve Dershem was the only commissioner to vote against allocating money toward the feasibility study in October 2021, saying he didn’t want to see government expansion and that he was concerned of the cost.
“I think when you come down to the fact that you have to hire doctors and other medical staff and all the other administrative fees and costs and build up to it, I just don’t think it’s … a win for us right now,” Dershem said on Tuesday.
Commissioner Mark Higgins said the costs were substantially higher than the initial estimates and the possibility of state grants covering a large portion of the cost was not likely. He said the interest also waned when the board realized an Act 315 health department might not be able to do as much as they hoped.
“I think there was some misperception on the board that there might be some possibility of providing direct medical care to citizens in Center County, especially in our rural areas, and that also appears not to be covered by a health department of this type, so I think it drastically lowered our appetite for the project,” Higgins said.