Precinct 3 County Commissioner candidate
Michael Moore calls for consolidation of
city, county health departments
July 30, 2020
“Consolidation won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. But the necessity will never be demonstrated better than it is right now during the coronavirus crisis.”
HARRIS COUNTY, TX – Michael Moore, the Democratic nominee for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3, called today for the consolidation of the City of Houston’s and Harris County’s health departments.
“Sometimes we need a crisis to reveal the obvious. The ongoing pandemic has dramatically shown that here in Harris County we need to improve health outcomes and squeeze more out of every tax dollar,” said Moore. “By consolidating the Houston Health Department and Harris County Health, we can eliminate duplication, find new efficiencies and deliver better public health outcomes.”
Currently, two health departments operate in Houston/Harris County: one that is responsible for people and organizations inside the City of Houston boundaries and the other that serves outside of the City of Houston.
“COVID-19 has reminded us that communicable disease – the prevention of which is a core public health responsibility – does not respect political boundaries,” said Moore. “Harris County needs a single, consistent public health authority responsible for planning, programming, responding, and promoting health.”
Operating two health departments means that taxpayers are supporting two sets of infrastructure, from financial management to personnel to IT. Given that public health is underfunded in the US, in Texas, and in Houston/Harris County, a combined department could redeploy resources to programmatic work as opposed to overhead and infrastructure. For example: We needed to hire 600 contact tracers in Houston/Harris County, yet each department set up its own program for hiring, training, and deploying the contact tracers – and we are still far from the robust program that we need.
Moore acknowledged the complexity of consolidating the city’s and county’s large bureaucracies. Possibilities include creating an independent health district governed by a board appointed by the city and county; or, either the city or county could take on responsibility for public health for both jurisdictions. These models already exist in major metropolitan areas.
Moore said he would look for guidance to a planned, comprehensive study by Rice University and the University of Houston, which will consider all aspects of a potential consolidation, from examining best practices nationwide, to looking at the impacts on patients, clients, and existing employees, to assessing the legal ramifications of outside grants and contracts. Further, Houston City Council is initiating a shared services working group to explore how Houston and Harris County may jointly provide services to gain efficiencies in government.
“I expect we will find that the efficiencies we can achieve with a thoughtful consolidation will yield better health outcomes,” said Moore.
In addition, having one public health authority will reduce conflicts in communication and confusion among the public. Harris County Health often publishes data that excludes the City of Houston. Sometimes it notes that the data is exclusive of city data and sometimes it doesn’t. It should not be up to the public to sort through and ferret out the useful information.
“Consolidation won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. But the necessity will never be demonstrated better than it is right now during the coronavirus crisis,” said Moore.
Michael Moore is the Democratic nominee for County Commissioner, Precinct 3. Michael served as Houston Mayor Bill White’s chief of staff, helping to oversee a general fund budget of nearly $2 billion and a workforce of more than 20,000. He was former Mayor White’s point person for Houston’s response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike. Michael is the co-chair of Commissioner Garcia’s Senior Care Facility Coronavirus Task Force. Election Day is Tuesday, November 3.
Learn more at www.MooreForCommissioner.