Section Menu
About

History of the Jefferson County Department of Health

Landmark legislation of 1875 established an Alabama Department of Health, designated the Medical Association of State of Alabama as the State Board of Health, and declared MASA’s Board of Censors to be the State Committee of Public Health. The medical societies were given authority to name municipal and county health officers. Despite this authorization, no full-time county health department was organized for more than 40 years.

Beginning in 1880, a single part-time physician was appointed to serve both the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County. In succession, Drs. James B. Luckie, Henry J. Winn, and John C. Dozier held this post.

Dr. Henry N. Rosser held the post for four years, during which he worked vigorously to improve sanitation. At his urging, the Birmingham City Council adopted an ordinance making it compulsory for all residents to provide receptacles for their garbage and requiring contract collectors to make regular pick-ups. At least 20 persons were arrested for non-compliance.

In 1906, an outbreak of meningitis claimed more than 70 lives. Scarlet and typhoid fever were epidemic in 1907.

In 1917, part-time health officers served Jefferson County and its municipalities, physicians who each maintained a private practice and received a small salary from the county or municipalities they served.

In order to meet the health needs of underserved populations, well-baby and prenatal care programs began in the 1920’s and 1930’s by a dynamic pair of nurses, Elizabeth and Zoe LaForge.

The first dental program was initiated in 1921.

In 1922, a barefooted, bleeding, and exhausted Dr. Judson D. Dowling, the county’s first Health Officer, headed home in Tarrant City. As a result of his campaign to promote the pasteurization of milk, he was kidnapped, warned to leave the city and threatened by local dairy operators. However, Dowling prevailed, and during his tenure led the department until 1941 fighting other battles against rabies, tuberculosis, and poor sanitation.

In 1927, the State-wide Privy Law was passed; however, the standards for Pit Privies were not adopted until 1928. At one time in Birmingham, there were as many as 8,000 outhouses and the rats were plentiful too.

In March 1936, cream puffs from a bakery were implicated in 122 cases of staphylococcus in Ensley.

There had been no routine inspection of food establishments for 3 years. Inspection of this bakery after the outbreak showed: building was not fly-proof, “flies were embracing these (3) toilets and the bakery products as a regular rendezvous,” no proper washing facilities for the employees, no hot water, utensil wash water had the consistency of pea soup, and temperature problems with the cream filling heated by steam for 6 minutes and cooled for 2.5 hours.

In 1946, Jefferson County Bureau of Sanitation canvased 5655 dwellings in Bessemer. Of these, 2752 had sewer connections, 2226 had non-approved pit privies, and 142 houses had no toilet facilities. They also found of the 937 houses outside Bessemer, 666 of them had nonapproved pit privies.

In 1956, the Jefferson County Board of Health adopted the first regulations in the state of Alabama addressing on-site sewage disposal, water supply, and the construction and operation of public bathing places and swimming pools.

From 1963 to 1964, Jefferson County recorded no rabid dogs. Prior to this time, Birmingham was known as the Mad Dog Capital of U.S.

In 1972, JCDH operated the county’s Air Pollution Control Program, as an extension of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Regulatory control was established; during which time dramatic reductions in air pollution levels took place. In addition, the Department began inspecting all establishments where food is prepared or sold to the public, including restaurants, school lunchrooms, food and milk processing plants, and mobile vendors.

In 1986, JCDH concentrated on preventive care in its health centers.

In 1989, special legislation was enacted to regulate boarding homes.

By the 1990’s, JCDH committed to direct patient care in our 7 primary care clinics; later that decade, adult outpatient care was added at 6 of our health centers.

In April 1991, the Jefferson County Board of Health adopted statements which articulated the mission and values of the JCDH.

On October 1991, Birmingham Healthy Start (BHS) began its journey aimed at reducing infant mortality in the city of Birmingham.

In 1994, legislation was passed giving the Department authority to regulate tattoo parlors and tanning facilities.

In January 2001, the Jefferson County Department of Health began its community assessment process through a series of half-day sessions with approximately 50 employees representing the various units of the agency. This development initiated a department-wide communication plan on the topics of community relations and created a vision of community health development for the agency.

Following the terrorist acts in New York City on 9/11/2001, JCDH began to reconsider the rapidly increasing financial commitment to direct primary patient care in light of greater expectations for public health responses to acts of terrorism. With the accelerating costs of continuing to provide the same historically provided services into the future, the ability to maintain the quality and quantity of programs dedicated to more traditional and historical public health roles was reviewed. Shortly thereafter, rapidly rising costs for medical care and stagnant revenues forced the Department to make substantial reductions in force in both 2002 and 2004.

In 2003, Western Mental Health Center, Inc. which was previously managed by JCDH as Western Health Center, became an independently operated 501c(3) not-for-profit agency under the local system-wide aegis of Jefferson-Blount-St. Clair Mental Health Authority.

In Spring of 2006, concurrent with these adjustments in clinical services and in keeping with the need to redirect health emphases to an expanded community focus, the first comprehensive public health community needs assessment utilizing the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) tool was unveiled.

In 2007, over 141,000 client visits were made to the Department’s health centers. Services provided included pediatric and adult primary care, prenatal care, family planning, nutrition counseling/WIC, and dental care. The Department also operates specialty clinics for tuberculosis patients, persons with sexually transmitted diseases, and travelers to foreign countries. Currently, over 19% of our current annual operating budget of $44 million remains committed to direct patient care in 4 primary care clinics.

In October 2007, the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) based on that assessment was approved by the Board of Health. This assessment laid the strategic foundation for JCDH’s future and redirected its long-range philosophy and strategy to periodically re-examine its entire portfolio of services to more effectively and efficiently meet the needs of the community.

In 2007, the Jefferson County’s Health Action Partnership, a multi-sector coalition of over 80 agencies, committed to improving health in Jefferson County, Alabama, was formed of the public health system led by the Jefferson County Department of Health.

The November 2008, examination of operational efficiency and effectiveness of all health centers led to the closure of Leeds Health Center and the transfer of most of those patients to Eastern Health Center (EHC) in Woodlawn. As a result, EHC remained the most productive health center in our system of primary care. Additional progressive demographic shifts that began a decade before in eastern Birmingham led to the strategic decision to close the Woodlawn site and open a new larger facility in Roebuck.

In 2012, a new Health Action Partnership (HAP) Leadership Team was seated and chaired by Mark Wilson, MD, Jefferson County Health Officer, and co-chaired by Drew Langloh, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Way of Central Alabama. With the support of three anchor organizations: Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, United Way of Central Alabama and Jefferson County Department of Health, the Leadership Team created and approved Articles of Collaboration formally defining the structure and operational guidelines for achieving the Health Action Partnership’s mission of making Jefferson County a healthier place to live, learn, work and play. The HAP partnership has the unique power to weave together collaborative efforts large and small to drive collective impact.

On the large scale, grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation totaling more than $13.5 million have helped the Health Action Partnership take major steps toward reducing obesity and tobacco use in the county. On a smaller scale, the Health Action Partnership has helped foster community-based collaborations and mobilized local support to drive community change.

The CHIP follow-up assessment was approved by the Board of Health in October 2013.

In 2014, the Jefferson County Department of Health led another Community Health Assessment (CHA), called Community Matters 20/20. The results of that comprehensive, community-informed assessment were a new Jefferson County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) and Community Action Plan (CHA). The Health Action Partnership adopted the Strategic Issues from the CHIP as their five Priority Areas including:

  1. Reduce health disparities associated with race, ethnicity and economics
  2. Improve mental health
  3. Optimize health care access, availability and utilization
  4. Promote physical well-being through healthy lifestyles
  5. Optimize the built environment, transportation system, and safety

In February 2015, the new Western Health Center opened. This state of the art facility offers quality health care for residents of Western Jefferson County.

On November 10, 2015, JCDH joined 95 other health departments who had achieved national accreditation status from the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB).