Historical cuts to local and state health departments during the Great Recession have lingered long beyond their time and pose new threats to community wellness in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, reports the New York Times.
These budget cuts have become an annual occurrence, leaving health departments with bare-bones staffs – nearly one quarter of their workforces have been reduced nationally since 2008, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials – and already operating at capacity before the onset of the virus last month.
In the face of new virus prevention and treatment demands, many key functions of healthcare departments, including home healthcare, reproductive and immunization education, and anti-smoking campaigns, are being put on hold.
Cindy Kinnard, the director of public health in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, tells the Times “At its height, the department had eight employees. Now it is down to six, hardly enough to handle the flood of tasks at this moment. “We’re getting a lot of telephone calls and a lot of questions. We are definitely understaffed for it.”
Adds Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials, “…they’ve really been hit hard, and the vast majority of them have not recovered. That’s apparent in both budgets and also in their work force.”
Some health departments are optimistic about the multi-billion dollar aid package which was recently authorized by congress, but even so are realistic about how quickly the funds will be utilized on coronavirus needs, leaving little to prop up core budget operations.
A. Scott Lockard, director of the Kentucky River District Health Department, said that “it shows that our public health infrastructure has been severely weakened over the years. We have much fewer people to respond when we have a situation like this.”
Read more about how health and wellness departments are grappling with underfunded programs and staffing during coronavirus here.