Irvine City Councilmembers unanimously approved looking at creating a new public office of health in the city, joining other Orange County cities who are considering similar measures.

Councilwoman Tammy Kim, who put forward the idea of Irvine’s office of health and wellness, was very clear that it wasn’t designed to replace or override the county health department in any way, which has been managing Orange County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly two years. 

“This is not a replacement of work already being done by the county, nor are we going to be in the business of being primary care providers,” Kim said during last Tuesday’s council meeting, adding the office would “complement” the county health department. 

Councilman Mike Carroll also sponsored the discussion on the new office, but did not comment on the program during the meeting.

Kim’s plan is largely twofold, calling for the city to reorganize its existing health and wellness programs spread out through multiple departments under one new department, while introducing new programs. 

It remains unclear exactly what new programs will be brought to the office of health and wellness if the council votes to create it.

But ideas thrown out at the meeting included a program to fight childhood obesity and offering resources to help connect residents to existing health services they may not know about. 

One of the largest issues she pointed out was the city’s lack of experts on public health coming into the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The challenges of protecting our health against COVID has brought greater awareness to the gaps in our public health infrastructure,” Kim said during the meeting. “As city leaders we’ve really been put in a position of making important policy matters without having subject matter experts on staff.” 

In 2020, the Irvine Police Department was one of the lead agencies organizing public health contracts at the city, including the city’s early COVID-19 testing contractors that had to be reevaluated after city officials realized one of the tests they ordered did not have FDA approval. 

[Read: Irvine Cancels Coronavirus Drive-Thru Testing Plans, Cites Concerns with Contractor]

Irvine’s not the only city looking at overhauling how local governments handle health, with Santa Ana announcing last year they were looking at making their own health department to fill in the healthcare gaps. 

[Read: Santa Ana May Create Its Own Health Department Given COVID Coverage Gaps from County]

Councilman Larry Agran, who campaigned on bringing a similar program to the city, praised Kim’s motion, but also said they could go further, calling for the city to appoint its own health officer and to collaborate with UC Irvine’s medical community. 

“I spoke about the importance of hiring a chief health officer, a nurse, a physician, part of this office of health and wellness,” Agran said. “This pandemic did indeed reveal all kinds of shortcomings in our health services, health delivery services, in Irvine as in every other city.”

It remains unclear when the council will discuss the office’s creation again, but council members unanimously agreed to study how to create one and figure out where funding could come from. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada. 

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