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Nation’s Local Health Departments Persevere through Budget Cuts to Ensure Communities are Protected from Emergencies


Contact: Becky Wexler
Burness Communications

Nation’s Local Health Departments Persevere through Budget Cuts to Ensure Communities are Protected from Emergencies

NACCHO commends Trust for America’s Health on release of annual report card on state readiness

Washington, D.C. (December 14, 2010)
– In recent years, state and local health departments have been tested by several large-scale public health emergencies—including the H1N1 influenza outbreak—while facing devastating budget cuts and workforce layoffs due to the ongoing recession. Trust for America’s Health’s (TFAH’s) annual report card on states’ ability to respond to such emergencies warns that the decade of progress made since the Sept. 11, 2001 and anthrax tragedies is threatened by the economic crisis.

“As the report reveals, under very challenging circumstances state and local health departments have made progress. Yet, this report highlights serious gaps in our nation’s ability to respond to health crises, from outbreaks of infectious disease to natural disasters. Unfortunately, a lack of federal, state, and local budget resources is straining an already fragile public health system,” said Robert M. Pestronk, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). “Because the first response to any public health emergency is a local one, NACCHO shares TFAH’s concern that the federal failure to sustain public health preparedness funding at the state and local level will jeopardize future response.”

TFAH’s Ready or Not? cites NACCHO’s survey that analyzes the impact of economic conditions over the past two years on local health departments’ budgets, workforce, and programs. The most recent survey of NACCHO members showed that between January 2008 and December 2009, local health departments lost 23,000 jobs to layoffs and attrition, roughly 15 percent of the entire local health department workforce. In the second half of 2009, 13,000 local health department employees were subjected to reduced hours or mandatory furloughs.

Despite on-going financial constraints, local health departments continue to develop innovative ways to respond to public health emergencies. For example, NACCHO’s Advanced Practice Centers (APCs), a network of eight local health departments, are each tasked with addressing one particular public health preparedness challenge. In addition to their leadership and innovation, they also provide free tools that other NACCHO members can use to prepare for and respond to their own public health emergencies. As local health departments are forced to make difficult choices, the value of resources like these increases exponentially:
  • The Montgomery County (MD) APC partnered with the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland to create new electronic medical screening tools for iPhone and BlackBerry users to screen and register patients during public health emergencies like an anthrax outbreak.  
  • The Seattle & King County (WA) APC developed a comic book to communicate personal preparedness messages to young people and those with limited English proficiency. Available in English and Spanish in both print and digital formats, the comic books show, through real-life stories, how a disaster might play out and helps readers determine what tools they might need to be survivors, too.
About the National Association of County and City Health Officials
The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) represents the nation''s 2,800 local governmental health departments. These city, county, metropolitan, district, and tribal departments work every day to protect and promote health and well-being for all people in their communities.