Prompted by COVID-19, State College is looking into creating a health department, which would give the borough more control when responding to future pandemics and other public health issues.
Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said having a health department would let the borough be more agile when responding to situations like the significant population fluctuations that happened this year during the pandemic. State College saw most Penn State students leave in March then return in the fall.
“I think having the ability to manage some of the local issues more directly from a local health department we think creates some advantage for us locally as opposed to simply relying on the Pennsylvania Department of Health," Fountaine said.
In Pennsylvania, a total of 10 counties and municipalities have their own health departments, under state Act 315. They get up to $7.50 in state funding per resident in the area served.
The borough does have a smaller health department currently, which handles a limited number of duties, like restaurant inspections. Because of that, assistant borough manager Tom King said it wouldn’t be as much of a jump.
King said a department would make the borough better positioned to approach issues such as mental health and excessive drinking as public health concerns.
And, it could handle contact tracing if needed.
“We would have the department in place so that if we ever 100 years from now again hit a pandemic like this, we would be ready, right on the spot with the health nurse and the staff of a 315 to bring on some additional part time employees, to be up and running in no time," King said.
The borough looked into having a health department under Act 315 in 2009, but did not move forward with it, largely because of the cost.
The borough plans to have a feasibility study done, which will be presented to council. And it plans to look at options for working with Centre County government and local municipalities. Next year’s budget includes $300,000 in funding available for the department, if the borough does move forward with it.