Health departments in the United States

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Government departments responsible for health issues and health services in the United States exist at Federal, State and local levels. The first such departments were at city level and were founded in the late 18th century, and there are now a variety of local health departments operating at city or county level. Health departments began to be set up in States in the mid-19th century and there is now one in every State. The Federal agency now known as United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS or Health Department) originated in 1939.

Local health departments[edit]

Local health departments in the United States were the first health departments in the United States. There is some dispute at the local level as to the claim of being the first to establish a local board or health department. At least four cities claim to be the first health department in the United States. The city of Yakima, WA claims to be the oldest in the nation,[1] established in 1911, the city of Petersburg, Virginia, claims it established the first permanent board of health in 1780.[2] The city of Baltimore, Maryland, claims it established the first US health department in 1793,[3] Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, followed 1794, claiming its Board of Health as "one of the first".[4] And Boston, Massachusetts, claims in 1799 it established the first board of health and the first health department, with Paul Revere named as the first health officer.[5][6]

State health departments[edit]

Each state health agency initially followed local moves to create health departments in each state. Louisiana was the first state to create a state board of health in 1855,[7] but it functioned primarily to influence regulations in New Orleans.[8] Massachusetts was the first to establish a state board that functioned throughout its state with statewide authority in 1869.[9]

United States Department of Health and Human Services[edit]

At the national level, a simple National Board of Health functioned from 1879–1883.[10] Not until 1939 was another federal agency established to manage public health on a national level. It went through several iterations a federal agency called the Federal Security Agency that had health functions such as the United States Public Health Service (PHS), and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 1953, that agency was reorganized and its health functions were elevated to a cabinet-level position to establish the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), which was renamed in 1980 to become the current and modern United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).[citation needed]

Current laws and regulations overview[edit]

HHS notes the laws and regulations that it carries out on its website.[11] Every state also has a health department to which HHS has given a description and hyperlink for each state health department.[12]

Other levels of government within each state are varied. For example, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has within it a health department in each of its 58 subdivisions called counties, but only three cities.[13] One is in San Francisco: the San Francisco Department of Public Health; and two are in Los Angeles County: the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services and the Pasadena Public Health Department.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Yakima Department of Health,County%20for%20over%20100%20years. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ "History of Three Rivers Health". Virginia Department of Health. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  3. ^ "About The Baltimore City Health Department". Baltimore City Health Department. March 30, 2016. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  4. ^ "Agency History". Philadelphia Department of Public Health. April 24, 2000. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  5. ^ "Montana Health Departments". Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  6. ^ "Our History". Boston Public Health Commission. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  7. ^ "History". Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. 2014. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  8. ^ "Everard W. New Orleans Health Department Records, City Archives". New Orleans Public Library. December 10, 2001. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  9. ^ "State Board of Health of Massachusetts: a brief history of its organization and its work, 1869–1912 : material compiled mainly from the reports of the Board". Massachusetts. Dept. of Public Health Streaming. January 1, 1970. Retrieved September 16, 2017 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Michael, Jerrold M. (2011). "The National Board of Health: 1879–1883". Public Health Reports. 126 (1): 123–129. PMID 21337938.
  11. ^ "Laws & Regulations". U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. March 18, 2016. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  12. ^ "State Health Departments". Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. September 17, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  13. ^ "California: Engaging the Public Health System in Collaborative Governance". Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). May 2012. Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved September 17, 2017.