Public health funding: Why you should care
April 5, 2012
by Charles D. Daughdrill, executive director of the Mississippi Public Health Association
McClatchy/Mississippi Press Editorial Board
The successes and efforts of public health are often taken for granted. Times of good health generally fly under the radar.
When you brush your teeth with clean water, public health is the reason. As you serve clean milk to your child and leave your child with a licensed day care center, public health is the reason.
As you eat your meals in an inspected restaurant or visit a family member in a licensed hospital or nursing home, public health is the reason.
Each day that you and your family live without fear of polio or other illnesses capable of disabling healthy children and workers, public health is the reason. When a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or the Gulf oil spill occurs and emergency providers quickly respond to you, public health is the reason.
All of these actions and many more are in place to protect you, your family and your community. Every day, public health touches your life and is an under-appreciated component of our health care system. Our current public health infrastructure is fragile and in urgent need of all our support.
The Mississippi State Department of Health is the backbone of our public health system. Unfortunately, state funding continues to decline.
Based on a 2010-11 report by Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community, Mississippi ranked 48th in state funds to meet our public health needs.
The department received $8.72 per person in state funding to operate public health services. In context, some of neighboring states received their own state funding to support public health as follows: Alabama (No. 8), $70.19 per person; Louisiana (No. 14), $49.70; Arkansas (No. 12), $51.37; and Tennessee (No. 17, at $43.87 per person).
The Mississippi Legislature has signaled a $23 million state funding level for the Mississippi State Department of Health in the upcoming year. This represents a 12 percent reduction from current levels and is on top of $10 million in cuts sustained during the past four years.
The department stated during official testimony that a minimum of $32.5 million is required to maintain essential public health services. This funding equals about $10.90 per Mississippian.
Financial decisions faced by the Legislature to fund state services are difficult. Yet, to maintain the resources for Mississippi's public health system to ensure healthy children to educate, healthy adults to work and healthy communities to develop economic opportunities, the Department of Health must receive adequate state funds.
Dr. Luke Lampton, chairman of the Board of Health, commented in the Clarion-Ledger that if the lower budget is approved, "it would devastate the critical functions of the Health Department." He also said our state would pay a huge price "if we don't fund the department at its basic, functional level."
Every day, public health professionals work to prevent the spread of disease, protect your food and water, and help ensure your community is healthy.
The Mississippi Public Health Association believes $10.90 per Mississippian is a value. We urge readers to contact their legislators in support of public health funding.
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