Legislation by Senate Health Committee Chair Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and Senate Health Committee Vice Chair George Runner (R-Antelope Valley) to create a separate California Department of Public Health was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature and sent to the Governor. The State Assembly approved the bill, 79-0; the State Senate concurred with amendments on a 34-2 vote.
“One of the number one priorities of government is public safety. It is critical that we focus on protecting the public’s health and be prepared for a bioterrorism attack or an outbreak of an infectious disease,” said Runner.
Under SB 162, the existing Department of Health Services will be split into two agencies: the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). The DPH will contain all programs pertaining to public health and disease prevention.
“Emerging infections, such as West Nile Virus and the Avian Flu, as well as the threat of bioterrorism have heightened awareness about the need to provide strong leadership at the state level to local public health officers who are the first-responders to epidemics and other public health dangers,” Ortiz said. “A Department of Public Health that is focused on California’s public safety needs will ensure that California residents are protected in the event of a bioterrorism attack, an environmental catastrophe or outbreak of infectious disease.”
Many experts, such as the Rand Institute, have issued reports finding California’s system of public health infrastructure to be woefully inadequate. The Little Hoover Commission has published two reports recommending the creation of a Department of Public Health.
By removing the state’s public health programs from the shadow of the Medi-Cal system, California will be better able to protect and prevent outbreaks of infectious disease and respond to environmental catastrophes and bioterrorism attacks.