Public health departments express concern over potential budget cuts

Representatives from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD) and four surrounding public health departments came together Thursday morning to discuss the potential effect of state budget cuts on public health.

“The budget that has been proposed by the legislature is completely unacceptable,” said Julie Pryde, public health administrator for CUPHD.

Pryde said that for Champaign County alone, nearly $1 million in cuts would be made to CUPHD revenues — cuts that would result in the reduction and possibly even the elimination of programs such as vaccines for children, teen parenting services, breast and cervical cancer screenings and the ability of the public health district to contain disease outbreaks.

“The timing of these proposed cuts is especially alarming, given the status of the H1N1 virus as a pandemic and its expectancy of becoming a greater threat in the fall,” Pryde said. “When we’re facing a pandemic, this is not a good time to cut the budget for public health. You do not play games when people’s lives are at risk.”

Joining Pryde in her stance against the proposed budget cuts were health department representatives of Vermilion County, Dewitt-Piatt Bi-County, Douglas County and Ford-Iroquois County.

All said they were facing significant revenue cuts which would result in the elimination of vital services to community members.

Linda Bolton, community relations coordinator from the Vermilion County Health Department said cuts to the Local Health Protection Grant would affect three basic services public health provides: food inspections, sewage and water inspections and communicable disease prevention and control.

“Cutting the Local Health Protection Grant or some of these other cuts that are being proposed for public health eliminates our ability to fight disease and help the public deal with the impact of a pandemic,” Bolton said.

Dewitt-Piatt Bi-County Health Department administrator Dave Remmert said some people may feel public health does not concern them, and that they have never received a public health service, but that everyone has benefitted from public health services in some respect.

“If you’ve ever drank a glass of water, if you’ve ever drank a glass of milk, if you’ve ever been to a restaurant, if you’ve ever had your children immunized against different childhood diseases … you have received public health,” Remmert said.

It is these basic services that make public health so important, said Amanda Minor, administrator at the Douglas County Health Department.

“When you reduce the funding for our services, that’s going to reduce the services that we can provide to the community,” Minor said. “When these services are reduced to the community, what is going to increase are the E.R. visits and the hospital visits.”

She said this will actually increase the money needed to take care of these problems, and it would take less money to fund preventative efforts.

Doug Corbett, administrator at the Ford-Iroquois County Health Department, said his department is facing a 50 percent reduction in revenue, totaling $1.29 million in cut services, including services that currently provide 1,400 low-income children with vaccinations free of charge.

“We are preventative in nature, and we do stop things from happening before they become full-blown problems,” Corbett said.

He said these preventative measures are provided to the people who need them most, and if he cannot offer those, he is doing a disservice to his community.

“If we can’t take care of people, people that need public health services the most in today’s economic ages, we are not a civilized society,” Corbett said.