Delaware County Council has taken key first steps toward creating a county health department with the April 7 appointment of five members to a Board of Health.

Creating a county health department, rather than relying on neighboring Chester County, was a campaign pledged believed to play a big role in helping Democrats seize control of the council in 2019.  Some residents complained that counties of similar size have health departments. They pointed to a 2010 report from Johns Hopkins Medicine highlighting a plethora of health problems affecting county residents.

Now, a health department is slated to open in Delaware County early next year, according to Council Vice Chair Monica Taylor, council liaison with the health department steering committee.

The five members were selected from 85 applicants who submitted letters of interest and resumes, according to a press release. The Board of Health is responsible for formulating rules and regulations for the prevention of disease, prevention and removal of conditions that constitute a menace to health, and for the promotion and preservation of public health. Rules and regulations formulated by the Board of Health must be approved by County Council.

“We have made enormous progress since we officially began the process of establishing a county health department a little over a year ago, and this is one more step toward our end goal,” said Taylor. “The five Board of Health members selected demonstrate both the experience and knowledge necessary to assist and guide the health department’s efforts and an immense passion toward ensuring our residents are receiving the highest level of public health services. Together, our goal is to build healthy and thriving communities.”

The new Board of Health includes Dr. Patrick J. Brennan, professor of medicine and senior vice president and chief medical officer of Penn Medicine; Rosemarie O’Malley Halt RPh. MPH., Delaware County COVID Task Force Director;  Dr. Y. Lily Higgins, market chief medical officer with Keystone First and AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania; Oni Richards, executive director of the African Family Health Organization that promotes health equality for underserved and vulnerable populations;  and Lora Siegmann Werner, regional director and environmental health scientist at the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control.

Brennan, who has held his position at Penn Medicine since 2005, led a successful system-wide Pandemic Preparedness and Response for COVID-19 effort, officials said.  Board-certified in infectious disease and internal medicine, Brennan graduated from Temple University School of Medicine, did his residency at Temple University Hospital, and his fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Halt coordinated Delco’s efforts to fight the pandemic with the Chester County Health Department and facilitated testing sites throughout the county. She holds a master’s in public health policy and public health from the University of Sciences and an undergraduate degree from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy at the University of Sciences. Halt has been senior director of policy, among other roles, at the Maternity Care Coalition.

Higgins developed and implemented face-to-face care management programs with community-based organizations to improve patient care, population health and to reduce healthcare costs. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the Asian American Women’s Coalition (AAWC), and serves on the board of Pennsylvania’s chapter of March of Dimes and the state’s Premie Society. She earned her  B.A. at Cornell University, a master of nutrition degree from Columbia University of Physician and Surgeons, and a medical degree from Drexel University School of Medicine. She also holds an MBA  in medical services management from Johns Hopkins University.

And Richards has experience in budgeting, project management,  use of information technology, and human resources development. She has more than 10 years of experience in public health, social justice. and community building. She previously worked in the Peacebuilding and Africa Programs of the American Friends Service Committee, was selected as a visionary emerging leader by the Valentine Foundation, and awarded a scholarship to attend the Non-Profit Executive Leadership Institute at Bryn Mawr College. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Arcadia University and studied at Webster University in France.

In her career, Werner cultivated relationships with federal, state, and local public health and environmental partners.  She holds degrees from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Rensselaer Institute.

Next, the Board of Health will, in turn, will appoint a medical director for the new county health department.