According to public health officials, the Health Department of Northwest Michigan will receive approximately $400,000 in cuts from the state at the same time they are expecting costs of approximately $200,000 for local response to the H1N1 (swine) flu outbreak.
“We are still reviewing the details, but the budget cuts are significant,” said Gerald Chase, Health Officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “Cuts to some of our access-to-health care initiatives are especially short-sighted—with relatively little investment, they pay off with future savings of healthcare dollars.”
For example, Chase noted Dental Clinics North’s services draw down $3 from the federal government for every $1 spent on oral health services for low-income, uninsured residents, including nursing home residents, adults with developmental disabilities and very low income senior citizens with disabilities like blindness.
“These dental services represent millions of dollars in savings to Michigan’s Medicaid budget in federal matching dollars, as well as to the local health care system, in reduced hospitalizations and emergency room visits,” Chase said.
“In addition to the financial implications, the Governor’s cuts have human costs as well,” said Linda Yaroch, Deputy Health Officer. “It is not an overstatement to say Health Department services change lives.” Yaroch pointed to better birth outcomes, increased graduation rates, and improved employment opportunities as proof.
Chase and Yaroch estimate the Health Department response to the H1N1 flu outbreak will be about $200,000 this year. “Our first responsibility is protecting the public health,” Chase said. “It’s the Health Department’s job to investigate communicable diseases to stop or slow outbreaks.”
The health department takes the lead in mounting communities’ defense against any communicable diseases. Depending on the magnitude of the outbreak, that defense may include social distancing, community mitigation, anti-viral medications and/or immunization.
Communicable disease investigation is the key to identifying the source of the outbreak, preventing further illness and death. Public health nurses interview those that are infected, track down all of their close contacts, and coordinate treatment or prevention for them.
“When there’s an outbreak, it’s ‘all hands on deck’, Chase said. “We immediately move from our day-to-day activities to fighting the outbreak. We have to worry about how we’ll be compensated later.” Chase said he was exploring options for recouping expenses related to the H1N1 outbreak.
The cuts to the Health Department of Northwest Michigan include services at eight Dental Clinics North locations across northern Michigan which the agency manages in partnership with other local health departments.
Although local health departments are locally-controlled and not “divisions” of state departments, they receive funding from Michigan Departments of Agriculture, Community Health, and Environmental Quality.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. www.nwhealth.org