California Department of Public Health

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is the state department responsible for public health in California. It is a subdivision of the California Health and Human Services Agency. It enforces some of the laws in the California Health and Safety Codes, notably the licensing of some types of healthcare facilities.

California Department of Public Health
Agency overview
Annual budgetUS$ 3.5 billion (2011)
Agency executives
  • Susan Fanelli, Acting Director
  • Charity Dean, MD, MPH, Acting State Public Health Officer
Parent agencyCalifornia Health and Human Services Agency

One of its functions is to oversee vital records operations throughout the state.[1] As of July 2019, the department is led by Acting Director Susan Fanelli, who also serves as Chief Deputy Director of Policy & Programs. Charity Dean, MD, MPH is the Acting State Public Health Officer and also serves as the Assistant Director.[2] On September 13, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Sonia Angell, MD, MPH as the CDPH Director.[3]

Medical Marijuana Program

CDPH operates the Medical Marijuana Program, tasked with issuing identification cards under Compassionate Use Act of 1996, and California Senate Bill 420.

Kids' Plates Program

CDPH administers the state's Kids' Plates program, which funds programs to protect children through the sale of customized license plates featuring one of four symbols- Heart, Hand, Star or Plus sign in the plate message. Of the proceeds, 50% supports child care licensing and inspections, 25% supports prevention of child abuse and 25% supports accidental childhood injury prevention programs.[4]

Lead-contaminated lunch bag incident, 2007

In 2007 it was discovered that CDPH had distributed green canvas "EAT FRUITS AND VEGETABLES AND BE ACTIVE" lunch bags (soft lunch boxes) whose cover, lining, and logo "tested high for lead levels".[5] Although CDPH eventually asked that people not use 56,000 green or 247,000 blue lunch bags,[6] CDPH was criticized by an advocacy group for not notifying parents quickly enough of the presence of lead in the green ones.[7]

Medical Privacy Fines, 2009

In 2009 CDPH imposed two fines totaling more than $400,000 against Kaiser Permanente hospital in Bellflower, CA, for failing to prevent unauthorized access to confidential patient information. The first fine was in May, of $250,000. It was the largest under a state law enacted following widely publicized violations of privacy involving celebrities, including Farrah Fawcett, Britney Spears and California First Lady Maria Shriver.

A second fine, of $187,500, was part of an investigation into employees improperly accessing the medical records of the so-called Octomom Nadya Suleman and her children. [8]

Social Marketing

CDPH uses Twitter and Facebook to provide public health information.[9]

Office of Health Equity

The Office of Health Equity (OHE) was established, as authorized by Section 131019.5 of the California Health and Safety Code (PDF)Opens in new browser window, to provide a key leadership role to reduce health and mental health disparities to vulnerable communities. The Deputy Director of the OHE reports to the Director at CDPH and works closely with the Director of Health Care Services.[10]

A priority of this groundbreaking office is building of cross-sectoral partnerships. The work of OHE is informed in part, by their advisory committee and stakeholder meetings. The office consults with community-based organizations and local governmental agencies to ensure that community perspectives and input are included in policies and any strategic plans, recommendations, and implementation activities.[10]

OHE is divided into the following three units:

Community Development and Engagement Unit's mission is to strengthen the CDPH’s focus and ability to advise and assist other state departments in their mission to increase access to, and the quality of, culturally and linguistically competent mental health care and services.[11]

Policy Unit's mission is to tackle complex projects that require input and collaboration across multiple agencies and departments, most of which are not traditionally thought of as health related.[12]

Health Research and Statistics Unit (HRSU) is a leading state unit in collecting data and disseminating information about health and mental health disparities and inequities in California. HRSU researches and produces data to fulfill statutory mandated reports and provides information and technical assistance to CDPH programs, state agencies, local health departments and stakeholders who are working to collect and report information on health and mental disparities and inequities in California.[13]

Licensing, complaints, and investigations

Division 2, Chapter 2 of the California Health and Safety Codes enumerates 13 types of facilities in Section 1250.1[14] including hospitals, skilled nursing, and hospice; these are generally regulated by the Licensing and Certification Division of the California Department of Public Health.

It has been criticized for lack of investigations and limited fines.[15] In 2014, lawmakers held a hearing[16] after investigative reporters raised concerns.[17] Cases from 2001 were reportedly still open as of 2014.[18]

In 2015, inconsistent enforcement of privacy laws was highlighted.[19]


  1. Figueroa, Teri (May 19, 2009), "No more free peeks at vital records", North County Times, San Diego, CA, archived from the original on 2012-09-05, retrieved 2009-05-20
  2. "CDPH Organizational Chart (as of July 2019)" (PDF).
  3. "Governor Newsom Announces Appointments 9.13.19". California Governor. 2019-09-13. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  4. Redding Recreation- Peter Griggs. "Kids Plates Program". Shasta Drowning Prevention. Archived from the original on 2014-03-01. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  5. Bernhard, Blythe (September 20, 2007), "Lunch bags may be tainted: State health agency warns against soft lunch bags they distributed because they may be contaminated with lead", Orange County Register, Santa Ana, CA
  6. Questions and Answers About Lead-Contaminated Lunch Boxes, Sacramento, CA: California Department of Public Health, January 28, 2008, archived from the original on July 26, 2009, retrieved July 26, 2009
  7. Lewis, Truman (September 21, 2007), "California's 'Healthy Lunchbox' Promotion Backfires: State now urges parents to toss the Chinese-made lunchboxes because of a lead hazard",, Los Angeles, CA
  8. "L.A. Now". The Los Angeles Times. July 16, 2009.
  9. Archived July 31, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  10. "OHE About Us". Office of Health Equity, State of California. Archived from the original on 23 November 2016. Retrieved 23 November 2016. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  11. Archived 2016-11-23 at the Wayback Machine This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  12. Archived 2016-11-23 at the Wayback Machine This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  13. Archived 2016-11-23 at the Wayback Machine This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  14. "DIVISION 2. LICENSING PROVISIONS CHAPTER 2. Health Facilities [1250 - 1339.59]". Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  15. "'All they got was a slap on the hand.' Is California low-balling penalties in nursing home death investigations?".
  16. "Quick dismissal of caregiver abuse cases puts Calif. patients at risk". Reveal. 2013-09-10. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  17. "Quick dismissal of caregiver abuse cases puts Calif. patients at risk". Reveal. 2013-09-10. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  18. Radio, Southern California Public (2014-03-04). "LA County closed nursing-home safety cases without investigations". Southern California Public Radio. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  19. Ornstein, Charles (2015-12-31). "The Consequences for Violating Patient Privacy in California? Depends Where the Hospital Is". ProPublica. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
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