In 1885, 114 of the 8,000 residents in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, died of typhoid fever. As the commonwealth’s population grew it became apparent that the state needed some sort of governing body to safeguard its residents’ health. In response, Pennsylvania established a State Board of Health in 1886.
Until the 1950s all public health matters were handled at the state level. However, in 1951 the legislature passed a law that permitted the establishment of county health departments. In 1956, Allegheny County voters approved the establishment of a health department. By 1957 the Allegheny County Health Department was serving the health concerns of its citizens. For more than five decades, the Allegheny County Health Department has been protecting the public health and environment for the more than 1.2 million residents of the county. Today, only four other counties in the state have their own health departments: Erie, Bucks, Chester and Montgomery.
The Health Director oversees all aspects of the health department and serves as secretary to the Allegheny County Board of Health. It is a nine-member governing body appointed by the County Chief Executive and approved by the County Council. The board is responsible for formulating rules and regulations for the prevention of disease, the prevention and removal of conditions that pose a health hazard, and the promotion and preservation of public health.
Over the decades, the Allegheny County Health Department has grown and changed along with the public’s health needs. In 1958, the health department opened the first dental clinic for children and in the early 1960s completed the polio vaccination campaign. In 2007, the county opened a new public health laboratory. Today, two divisions comprise the health department: Human Health and Environmental Health.
Human Health oversees numerous public health programs such as:
The Environmental Health Division consists of the following programs:
The health department is also responsible for Emergency Preparedness & Response. It works to make sure that the county is prepared for any sort of public health emergency. Mass casualties to terrorist attacks, natural disasters to environmental disasters, and disease outbreaks are among its duties. The department also maintains equipment used to detect chemical, biological and radiation levels. It’s ready to support the City and County Hazmat Teams when their expertise is needed.
The Allegheny County Health Department is responsible for administering the Pittsburgh Health Corps. It is a part of the AmeriCorps program. Those looking to be members are usually young adults who are looking to serve communities in need. This is done by improving access to health care for the residents and assisting in promoting healthier lifestyle choices.