Maria Panaritis would have done well to read the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 19, the very day she wrote a column that, at best, left out some inconvenient facts. Fortunately, many of the relevant facts were otherwise accounted for in an article with proximity to her own column. She lambasted Republicans in Delaware County for having not previously created a county health department and used this as context for “evidence” that too many in the county have died from COVID-19 because of it.
While it is true, as she states, that Delaware County has the highest death rate per 100,000 population in Southeastern Pennsylvania, if one looks closely at her charge that the lack of a health department is the cause, her case quickly evaporates.
First, it is important to know that county health departments are not involved in the regulation or oversight of nursing homes. They are the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and its massive budget. This is the very department that ignored urging from the state legislature to test residents and staff of all nursing homes in the early stages of the pandemic. It is also the department that issued a directive that nursing homes accept Covid-19 patients discharged from hospitals, unleashing the deadly virus on those most vulnerable despite warnings that the decision could be deadly to fellow residents.
The result, almost 90% of Delaware County’s deaths were nursing homes residents or staff, according to a state report released on June 11, 2020. Indeed, nursing homes accounted for 80% or more of all COVID-19 related deaths in each of Philadelphia’s suburban counties. Since Montgomery, Bucks, and Chester counties have health departments, why aren’t their results better? The state was responsible, so despite expensive county health departments the outcome between the counties was virtually the same.
Almost 90% or Delaware County deaths were nursing homes residents or staff, according to a state report released June, 11, 2020.
County governments had extraordinarily little to do with the policies that led to the COVID-19 nursing home debacle. So, the results most influenced by a local health department are deaths not attributable to nursing homes. Using the numbers from the State report of as June 11, 2020, the deaths per 100,000 were:
Montgomery County (6), Chester County (9), Delaware County (12), Bucks County (18), and Philadelphia County (61).
Delaware County is in the middle of the five counties in terms of non-nursing home deaths per 100,000 population, without raising taxes on local resident for a superfluous health department. Yet this does not tell the whole story. As reported by Ms. Panaritis’ own Inquirer, Delaware County is the second-most-densely populated county in the state besides Philadelphia. It is home to multiple municipalities with poverty rates rivaling the City of Philadelphia’s. It has the oldest median age of any of the suburban collar counties. The correlation between these empirical facts, COVID-19 infection rates, and the fact that Delaware County’s death rates are barely different than the other suburban counties and considerably lower than Philadelphia – all of which have health departments – beg the question, why is Delaware County exceeding expectations?
I was one of those Republicans Ms. Panaritis accuses of resisting the creation a county health department to the detriment of many. Why did I oppose the creation of such a department? They cost millions of dollars per year without a clear return on investment. State subsidies reliably fail to offset the expense. This is why a majority of Pennsylvania counties do not have one. In the absence of a county health department, the state is, by law required to do the job.
I was one of those Republicans Ms. Panaritis accuses of resisting the creation of a county health department to the detriment of many.
Given the fact that the state has a legal responsibility to ensure the public health, how could I justify the imposition of one dime of additional taxes on those citizens already living paycheck to paycheck, or living in municipalities failing to provide basic services such as quality public education or public safety?
Those sympathetic to Ms. Panaritis’ argument must acknowledge that Delaware County officials have only one place to get more revenues, the real estate tax. The real estate tax is an extraordinarily regressive tax that is actively destroying a place I love, Delaware County’s Upper Darby Township.
Ms. Panaritis should rethink her thinly veiled hatred for Republicans. Contrary to popular belief in the press, we also care about our constituents. We just weigh the facts and come to different conclusions. Elected officials, Democrat and Republican alike, make few decisions without competing consequences. Irrespective of political party, most make decisions based on their belief of what is the right thing to do. I often disagree with policy decisions made without impugning motives. Perhaps more of us should.
I recently read that Democrat Delaware County Councilman Zidek asked that we stop blaming people because of their political party and instead focus on solving problems. Perhaps Ms. Panaritis could learn a thing or two from him.
Wally Nunn previously served as chair of Delaware County Council and as a member of the Upper Darby Township School Board.