News Release

Health Department of Northwest Michigan
serving Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego Counties
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Health disparities gap could widen with budget cuts

(August 19, 2009) According to local officials, public health programs threatened with budget cuts could widen health disparities. Numerous studies show that those with lower levels of income and education are at much higher risk of disease and premature death.

"The good news is that we know we can reduce health disparities through effective public health interventions," said Linda Yaroch, Deputy Health Officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. "The bad news is we're facing huge budget deficits and policy-makers are trying to balance the state budget even though they produce considerable savings."

Several health department programs are on the cuts list.

These programs include Zero to Three Secondary Prevention services, designed to reduce child abuse and neglect, such as the New Horizons Teen Parent Program. For nearly 30 years, the Health Department, Char-Em Intermediate School District, and Women's Resource Center have worked together with pregnant and parenting teens.

Yaroch said the program is a clear example of an effective public health intervention. "There are virtually no cases of child abuse and neglect among the program participant families. Babies' health status is improved and we've demonstrated other positive outcomes among participants' children like school readiness. Nearly every student graduates from high school, and many go on to college. This is a life-changing program."

School-based child and adolescent health centers, which are located in medically-underserved areas in schools that serve low-income families, are also slated for cuts. The Health Department operates a very successful child and adolescent health center, the Ironmen Health Center, in Mancelona. 500 of the district's 700 middle school and high school students receive primary care at the school-based health center. The Health Department is developing a similar health center in Pellston for students and youth age 5 through 21.

"Cuts to the child and adolescent health center program are also short-sighted," Yaroch said. "There's 20 years of solid research proving their effectiveness in reducing health care costs and improving academic performance."

Also targeted for cuts are a number of Healthy Michigan Fund programs, such as Family Planning and the Breast & Cervical Cancer Control Program, that are designed to reduce chronic disease and risk factors associated with them. These are particularly important for lower-income groups who are affected at higher rates.

Poverty is the key determinant contributing to disparate health outcomes, Yaroch said. "Those in poverty have less access to good medical care, healthy food, and resources for a healthy lifestyle. They’re more likely to live with stress and uncertainty, contributing factors to a number of serious health conditions and diseases."

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.