Rich Jurisdictions Vote with Their Feet on the Virginia Department of Health

by James C. Sherlock

M. Norman Oliver M.D., Virginia Health Commissioner

A couple of days ago Antonio Olivo broke a story  in The Washington Post that told of a law permitting Loudoun and Prince William counties to form independent health departments. It awaits Governor Northam’s signature.

Having seen the performance of the Department of Health during COVID, they have decided they cannot depend on their state-run health districts. They are not breaking new ground, as Fairfax and Arlington Counties already made the change in 1995 and 1998 respectively.

We have written much in this space about the dangerous shortcomings of the Virginia Department of Health exposed by COVID, including its planning, exercise, nursing home inspection, testing and vaccination programs.

Now it appears that an increasing number of our wealthier local governments get it and want to take health district matters into their own hands.

It is expensive to do what those Northern Virginia counties are doing or propose to do. They are going that route because VDH failed to meet its responsibilities and the local heath districts could not maintain staff because the state pay scales are too low.

Virginia Beach is also considering the change. What does the rest of the state do? What can other local jurisdictions afford to do?

Letting the rich jurisdictions bail out, though it is hard to blame them, and leaving the others to live with a broken Department of Health is certainly not the answer.  The Governor and General Assembly have to understand that and act.

Virginia needs a 9/11-type commission to examine the Department of Health from top to bottom and help us fix it.