Local and state public health officials remain concerned that the challenging economic times may lead to cuts in funding support.
“Public health continues to see increases in demands for services with fewer dollars available. We cannot afford to reduce funding for public health programs, we must maintain what we have until additional funding is approved,” said Rex A. Allman, M.D., president of the Indiana Association of Public Health Officers and health officer for the Pulaski County Health Department.
Nationally, more than 11,000 public health workers at the state and local level have lost their jobs. There is a risk for another 11,000 jobs to be lost in the coming year, and thousands more that support community health.
Public health is on the front lines of disease prevention, eliminating health disparities and serving as leaders in public health preparedness.
Increased demand for public health has risen dramatically as the economy has slowed. Single working moms, families who have seen health coverage reduced or eliminated and those who have long depended on public health look to us for assistance.”
“Requests for immunizations, routine health exams, screenings and referrals from other agencies have increased at a time when most of our departments have minimal staff. Our public health workers are already completing their jobs with maximum effort without the appropriate resources to meet the need,” said Allman.
Public health departments throughout Indiana are seeing increases in the number of individuals and families who are now considered vulnerable.
“All of the money in the stimulus is needed. We cannot afford any reductions in funding and we encourage President Obama and Senators Lugar and Bayh to advocate on the side of public health,” said Allman.
Investing in public health offers a well-documented return. Investing in prevention and wellness has a proven return on investment. For every $1 invested in community level health prevention, there is a savings of more than $5 in health care expenditures within five years. Public health officials understand that through education, prevention, intervention and planning, health care costs for local communities and the nation can be reduced.
“Through immunizations and medications we have been able to control a variety of communicable diseases including hepatitis, influenza, drug resistant tuberculosis, pneumonia and childhood illnesses like chicken pox, mumps, measles and rubella that, if left unchecked, could be financially devastating to our economy,” said Virginia A. Caine, M.D., director, Marion County Health Department.
“Public health is also responsible for the monitoring and investigation of foodborne disease outbreaks like those involving restaurants, food manufacturers and food handler. Public health also oversees the local water supply, works to support healthy pregnancies, quality neighborhoods and the overall health and well-being of the community,” said Allman.
For example, in Marion County, the housing staff could be doubled to meet existing needs. Those needs are expected to only increase as additional neighborhoods feel the impact of home foreclosures. Lead poisoning and other environmental hazards also pose significant challenges to neighborhoods. Public health departments are responsible for education, prevention, intervention and oversight with lead and other potentially dangerous materials.
“To not include full funding for public health in the stimulus package would send the wrong message about the commitment we in public health have for those we serve now, and those who we know we will serve throughout these challenging economic times,” said Allman.