Meeting planned to create role to run West Covina’s proposed health department – Whittier Daily News


West Covina leaders, taking its latest steps toward creating their own public health department since deciding to break away from Los Angeles County’s, will hold a public hearing on April 6 to discuss creating the position of healthcare officer to run the new operation.

City leaders are expected to discuss how to incorporate the health department into the city’s annual budget, make requests for proposals and qualifications for staffing and adopt a fee schedule for inspections and permits at the hearing, scheduled at 7 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers, 1444 West Garvey Avenue South. More on the meeting and how to participate here. 

Earlier this month, the city adopted health-code provisions, in line with the guidelines established by L.A. County.

Disappointed by decisions such as the severe restrictions placed on restaurants during the peak of the pandemic, the City Council voted to terminate services with the county Department of Public Health in February. Local officials say the county department is too big and is not sufficiently responsive to requests from the City Council and business owners.

On March 15, the council voted to start the process of creating the department head role and to establish heath-code provisions — both essential steps toward eventually attaining state approval — on a 4-1 tally, with Councilmember Brian Tabatabai opposing.

“We still have not done the financial analysis when it comes to startup costs,” Tabatabai said.

Some members of the community have expressed similar concerns. “It doesn’t seem at this moment the city has the financial resources to take on this big responsibility,” said attorney Daniel Luna. “The plan isn’t specific enough.”

Tabatabai also accused city leaders of not following a legal process for hiring for a new medical leader.

Dr. Basil Vassantachart has been acting as a consultant to the City Council and has been identified by members of the City Council as the health director, Tabatabai said.

“This is not the legal process that we have in West Covina for hiring,” Tabatabai said.

Mayor Letty Lopez-Viado said the City Council is in uncharted waters. “We’re setting the precedent of how to go about this whole process,” she said.

Lopez-Viado said she does not want to use the city’s general fund to start or operate a health department. She said Vassantachart has not yet been appointed health director, but has offered to work without compensation in such a role.

“If somebody better comes along, we won’t deny that. We’ll take that,” Lopez-Viado said. “I don’t see exactly where (Tabatabai) sees there is a conflict of interest. But I am definitely going to address that. If it is an issue, we’ll take care of it. That’s why we have the city attorney on board to make sure we don’t mess up any of the legalities.”

Lopez-Viado said others in the community — including staff and faculty at California State University, Los Angeles — have also offered to volunteer services.

The mayor planned to meet with the city finance director and city manager last week to work on a budget for the department, as well as details for the health director post.

“If it’s going to cost us a lot of money, we’re not going to move forward with it,” Lopez-Viado said. “The transitional costs, obviously we’re going to try to not touch any general funds with that, including the health director.”

The health officer would oversee such departments as administration and finances, clinical services, epidemiology, data, science and research.

Department services would include:

  • Collection, tabulation and analysis of public health statistics;
  • Health education programs;
  • Communicable disease control;
  • Assessing social factors affecting health;
  • Medical, nursing, education and other services to promote maternal and child health;
  • Environmental health and sanitation services;
  • Laboratory services; and
  • Services in nutrition, chronic disease and occupational health.

West Covina expects to pay for the department through a combination of federal and state funds, grants and fees from permits and inspections.

To operate its independent health department, which employs 111 full-time staff, neighboring Pasadena reported an annual budget of $16.3 million in the fiscal year 2019-20, according to Manuel Carmona, deputy director of health. The estimated budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year is $18.7 million.

Pasadena’s department, which operates six divisions, added epidemiology and disease-control divisions in October at a cost of nearly $2 million.

Some new positions were made possible because of COVID-relief related grants that weren’t in the original budget, Carmona said.

State grants make up 33% of Pasadena’s budget, federal grants 24% and licenses/permit fees 16%.

Here’s where Pasadena’s funding came from:

  • Taxes: $970,000;
  • License and permits: $2.1 million;
  • Intergovernmental revenues: $12.5 million;
  • Charges for services: $578,000;
  • Rental income: $210,000; and
  • Miscellaneous revenue: $167,000

County public health, meanwhile, receives 50% of its funds from the federal government, 19% from state funding, 10% from local grants and other revenues and 7% from license and permit fees.

The county collects property taxes from West Covina each year — about $31 million in 2019-20. Of that, $10.23 million went to public health expenses. The county will continue to collect those dollars, even if West Covina creates its own health department.

West Covina, seeking “a graceful transition and peaceful release and tax transfer agreement” according to the city staff’s presentation at the meeting on April 16, is required to meet these deadlines:

  • May 31: The city needs to provide notice to terminate its health service agreement with the county. (The City Council notified the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in February it was terminating services.)
  • July 1: A plan is due to the California Department of Health. If the state does not approve the proposal, the county would continue to provide services.

“This is a tremendous undertaking for any entity,” Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement after a virtual town hall meeting on March 11. “During the last few weeks, numerous community members have called my office with concerns regarding how the city of West Covina would take on such comprehensive services, which led me to host Thursday’s meeting. I am committed to meeting the public health needs of our West Covina community and will continue to be responsive.”


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