After years of unsuccessful attempts to launch a county health department, Lehigh County commissioners have voted to join Northampton County in studying the feasibility of a regional or multi-county service.
By unanimous vote Wednesday, Lehigh County commissioners passed a resolution that would add Lehigh to research being conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Public Health Practice.
''It's about time we got something going here,'' said Lehigh commissioners Chairman Percy Dougherty. ''I think the stars are in the right position.''
Work being done by Pittsburgh researchers suggests a regional approach will provide the ''optimal level of services with the least amount of fiscal burden.''
In a prepared statement read at the meeting, Dougherty said, ''because of the expense of setting up a health bureau, it is my opinion that we can only do so on a regional basis.
''There is a cost saving in a larger scale health bureau that cannot be met by a city or county on its own. The logical match is with Northampton County.''
The Lehigh Valley is stagnated by the number of operational government facilities in Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon Counties - about 14 institutions per 100,000 people compared to a national norm of 6.1 per 100,000 people. According to the Brookings Institution Center, this fragmentation complicates coordination, exacerbates unbalanced growth patterns, and undercuts the region's ability to compete economically.
Regionalized approaches to service delivery could result in major economic savings, more coordinated and organized service delivery and an increase in service quality including health and emergency response services.