READING, Pa. – As medical professionals in Berks County continue to test, vaccinate and save lives, some have made a new diagnosis.

“What we came to realize, that in the absence of a county department of health, it was very challenging to get the necessary people the resources needed to achieve the desired goals,” said Dr. Michael Haas, president of the Berks County Medical Society.

If such a department began to take form in Berks, who would be at the helm? Perhaps some already prominent health leaders would be a natural choice.

“I foresee that a future department of health would have representation from all of the key stakeholders in the health care in our community,” Haas said.

A county health department wouldn’t just be responsible for handling a pandemic, but it would also oversee day-to-day public health-related concerns.

“You’re taking on vicious dogs and rabies and HIV testing and pool inspections and campground inspections,” said Kevin Barnhardt, vice chair of the Berks County Board of Commissioners.

All three county commissioners are exploring the option.

However, it wouldn’t come without a cost.

Six counties and four municipalities in the state — a majority in our region — have their own health departments.

“I think their budgets are upwards of $10 (million) to $12 million dollars, and then there’s federal and state grants that reimburse some of those costs,” Barnhardt said of the departments in Montgomery and Chester counties.

With Delaware County currently working to establish a health department to debut next year, many wonder if a decision is looming about Berks County doing the same.

“I think in the near term, thinking about it, researching it, seeing the pros and cons,” said Barnhardt. “It can happen in the not too distant future.”

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