Denver Question 2H: Why are we changing the name of the health department?

Question 2H is the 2017 Denver ballot measure you’ll hear the least about — but perhaps, like me, you’d like some context before you check yes or no.

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Question 2H is the ballot measure you’ll hear the least about — because it’s not controversial and no one is campaigning for or against it. It does pretty much what it says it does on the ballot. But perhaps, like me, you’d like some context before you check yes or no.

So here it is:

Question 2H, if approved, would formally change the name of the city’s Department of Environmental Health to the Department of Public Health and Environment and expand the size of the board that governs this agency from five people to nine.

Why is this on the ballot at all?

This department and its board were created by charter amendment in 1996, which means they exist in the city’s constitution and require a vote of the people to make these kinds of changes.

Why change the name?

Once upon a time, there was a Department of Health and Hospitals that managed public health duties along with running the county’s public hospital, then known as Denver General and now known as Denver Health. This entity became two agencies when the Colorado General Assembly created the Denver Health and Hospital Authority and Denver created the Department of Environmental Health.

The Department of Environmental Health handles most of what a layperson would think of as “public health,” including food safety inspections, animal control and the Office of the Medical Examiner. while Denver Health provides health care. However, Denver Health retains certain public health functions, like running immunizations clinics and maintaining vital records.

The Department of Environmental Health is the official public health agency of the city and county of Denver. The proposed change aims to make it clearer to the public that this department is responsible for public health and aligns with the name of the equivalent department in state government, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The change also should make it clearer to funders that this department handles public health issues when applying for grants.

Why increase the size of the board?

The Board of Environmental Health makes rules and regulations related to the department’s duties and reviews decisions. Those duties and responsibilities won’t change at all. If approved, 2H would increase the size of the board so that a greater diversity of experience and perspectives can be represented. A larger board should also make it easier to achieve quorum and aligns with other cities the size of Denver.