Los Angeles County supervisors postponed a vote Tuesday on whether to split the Department of Health Services in half to better prepare for threats such as bioterrorism and bird flu, and tackle diabetes, obesity and other existing epidemics. The supervisors voted 4-1 to continue the matter, expressing concerns that a contract outlining the relationship between the two agencies would not be ready until Jan.19. Under the proposal, which faces a final vote after a Feb.7 public hearing, the Public Health portion would become the Department of Public Health and would no longer be a division of the massive Department of Health Services. This would give Public Health Officer Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding greater control over programs to protect the county’s 10million residents, supervisors said. The plan also is designed to create a more efficient public-health system to help officials manage care as the Department of Health Services eyes an $889million shortfall within three years. In recent years, separate public-health departments have been created in New York City, Boston, Houston, Miami and Seattle. “We have epidemics of diabetes, obesity, violence and a whole bunch of things that are serious public health problems,” Fielding said. “And my view is we are going to be more nimble, more flexible if we control priorities in terms of how we hire people, what contracts we approve – the nitty-gritty stuff.” Under the plan, the Department of Health Services would continue to run hospitals and clinics. The new Department of Public Health would still track and treat diseases with prevention programs and awareness campaigns. But it would help safeguard Public Health money from likely cuts to the Department of Health Services budget. The proposal comes more than three decades after Public Health – employing 4,000 people with an annual budget of $650million – was merged with the larger health department, which has a $3.7billion budget and 23,000 employees. If the supervisors are forced to close hospitals and make other cuts in the health department in the coming years, the creation of a separate Public Health Department would help shield it from those cuts. “It means there would be a direct way for the director of public health to talk to the board about issues, as opposed to having a director of DHS – most of whom don’t have a background in public health – making decisions about how much public health should be cut,” Fielding said. Supervisor Gloria Molina, who voted against the plan, said she didn’t see any value in the split. “It seems like a lot of administrative chairs moving around at the top level,” Molina said. “I see a lot of potential problems. There is a turf and territorial situation that goes on. I see no benefit for the public.” [email protected] (213)974-8985 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!