PA Health Department says it will improve responses to health complaints

Pennsylvania Department of Health officials said they’ve improved the process for dealing with health-related complaints from residents near Marcellus Shale drilling operations.

Last month, StateImpact Pennsylvania reported that two former state health officials were told not to respond to people who complained about health concerns related to fracking.

The department denied that they dealt with health complaints incorrectly, but released a list of improvements on Monday.

The department said it has:

  • Provided information on how to file an environmental health complaint through various partners throughout the state, including targeted outreach to the medical community, who are often the first to learn of environmental health concerns;

  • Enhanced the environmental health section of the department’s website with emphasis on accessibility and ease of navigation;

  • Instituted a written letter response policy for all environmental health concerns to better track and document correspondence that takes place between the department and those who express concerns; and

  • Committed to better coordination and communication with the Department of Environmental Protection when dealing with complaints involving both agencies as well as when complaints need to be transferred from one agency to another.

Despite the changes, environmental groups have called on the state to conduct an investigation into the department’s past practices.

It’s unclear whether the state’s auditor general will conduct an investigation, according to StateImpact Pennsylvania.

“At this time, we are not looking to audit the Department of Health on this issue,” said Susan Woods, a spokeswoman for Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

DePasquale’s office recently completed an audit faulting the state Department of Environmental Protection for mishandling public complaints about water contamination and unconventional shale development.

Woods said the Auditor General’s office will continue to ‘monitor what goes on’ at the Department of Health.

PublicSource has written about calls from state physicians and environmental groups for the state to better track the health impacts believed to be related to fracking and to create a health registry.

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or nkhan@publicsource.org.