What is the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department?

With the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department’s existence in the balance this week, you may have a lot of questions about who they are, what they do, and how much it all costs. Unless you have needed their services, you may not be aware of all the things your local Health Department does in Pierce County. Infectious diseases, addiction, environmental approvals (SEPA, NEPA), septic system approvals, hepatitis prevention, tobacco cessation, water quality, environmental safety (algae blooms, hazardous waste), food safety and so much more. This graphic is taken from their drop down menus.

And upon the dissolution of the 1972 Health Department Interlocal Agreement, we do not yet know how many of these functions and staff will be lost and/or rehired, and at what cost to the county budget.

Why would we consider changing it? The reason Councilwoman Pam Roach gave was to place the decision making in the hands of directly elected officials. Others on the Council have made public statements that they believe the reason has to do with environmental development regulations and approvals that are currently independent of the elected county officials.

“As a joint City-County health department, the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health includes Tacoma City Council members, Pierce County Council members, a representative from Pierce County cities and towns, and a representative from the Pierce County Medical Society.” (from the TPCHD website)

Here is the current health department charge, directly from their website:

Health Board: Public health is essential for all of us. Every day, we are hard at work so you can enjoy a meal, drink tap water, breathe clean air, and stay healthy and disease free. That’s why public health matters.

Vision: Healthy People in Healthy Communities.

Mission: We protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County.

People are healthy and safe here.
People have equitable opportunities for health.
Children, families and communities thrive.
Communicable Disease Control
Prevents and controls the spread of diseases.

Investigate and limit disease outbreaks.
Help people with diseases like HIV/AIDS, whooping cough and tuberculosis get the care they need.
Prepare for and respond to emergencies.
Ensure food in restaurants and schools is safe to eat.
Environmental Health
Helps our communities become healthier places to live, learn, work, and play.

We make sure:
People have access to healthy food and healthy environments.
Water is safe to drink.   
Air is safe to breathe.
Strengthening Families
Helps children, families, and communities thrive.

We provide:
Family support for your child’s early years.
Substance abuse prevention, education, counseling, and treatment.
Comprehensive community oral health.
Administrative Services
Helps our organization stay high-performing, innovative and quality focused.

The budget of the current health department comes from several sources including the City of Tacoma, the Federal Governments, the State Government, Pierce County and fees charged for services. Currently Pierce County only funds 8.9% of the Health Department budget. In a department reorganized under Pierce County, how much of this will they have to make up? The total annual budget is almost $80 million.
This chart is from the TPCHD webpage.

On Monday, December 7, at 10 a.m., the Pierce County Council’s Rules and Operations Committee will consider the Ordinance to dissolve TPCHD and form a new Health Department reporting to the Pierce County Executive. The document packet is posted on the Council Website. Pages 39 to 425 are regarding this item. Five pages (39-43) are the proposal, five pages at the end (421-425) are a proposed Amendment #1, the rest are public comments already received. Please dial in or call in to the meeting, numbers matter. Do not expect that everyone will get a chance to comment, you will need to send written comment. This link is to send your comments.

If you plan to witness the meeting, here is some advice for Remote Participation.

Final Consideration is currently scheduled for the December 15 Council Meeting at 3 p.m. It is guaranteed they will attempt to pass this before the end of the year when a new Council takes office.

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