Public Health Services History

According to the San Diego History Center website, San Diego’s Board of Health was first established by the Common Council of the City of San Diego in 1850, under authority of the first City Charter. There is no record of regular meetings of that board.

The Board of Trustees again established a Board of Health in 1869, in an attempt "to prevent the spread of smallpox and other contagious diseases in the City of San Diego." It does not appear that this Board remained active, and there is no record of its reappearance until the San Diego Union carried news of the "first regular meeting" of the Board of Health on June 12, 1876, when it was created by a charter ordinance. The "unhealthy condition of the water that was being delivered to the citizens of this city by the San Diego Water Company" was the first public health issue to be discussed by this new Board of Health. At that time, the City Board consisted of the City Trustees and an appointed Health Officer.

One major health issue, the Spanish flu, spread to San Diego in 1918. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, there were 4,392 cases reported out of a population of about 70,000. Over 300 people died. Mandatory flu masks were given to high school schools. The Board of Health urged the public to “keep out of crowds.”

According to the Online Archive of California, in the early 1920’s, the City formed a Health Department. A County Department of Public Health was organized in 1933. In 1953, the City and County departments were consolidated into one, and as such, it has remained. Now the County Health Department, Public Health Services, is a division of the Health and Human Services Agency, which was formed in 1998.

Please see below a list of known County/City of San Diego Public Health Officers:

  1. Thomas C. Stockton, M.D. (1880’s)
  2. David Gochenauer, M.D. (early 1910’s)
  3. Dr. Ernest Chartres-Martin (around 1918)
  4. Alex M. Lesem, M.D. (1923-1949)
  5. J.B. Askew, M.D. (1949-1975)
  6. John R. Philp, M.D. (1976-1979)
  7. Donald G. Ramras, M.D. (1979-1994)
  8. Robert K. Ross, M.D., M.P.A. (1994-2000)
  9. George Flores, M.D., M.P.H. (2000-2002)
  10. Nancy L. Bowen, M.D., M.P.H. (2002-2007)
  11. Wilma J. Wooten, M.D., M.PH. (2007- present)