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55 percent of local health departments suffered cuts last year

According to a survey released by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (known as NACCHO), 55 percent of all local health departments across the country had to trim down or completely eliminate at least one program in their department. Florida’s local health departments, in particular, suffered severe budget cuts this year.

Local health departments provide a wide range of services, including nutrition assistance, breast and cervical cancer detection programs, child health programs, care for patients with diabetes, family planning services, and HIV/AIDS prevention and immunizations.

NACCHO’s survey (.pdf) of job losses and program cuts in local health departments (aka LHDs) found that certain services were hit harder than others.

According to the report, “21 percent of all LHDs reduced or eliminated maternal and child health services while only 9 percent made cuts to epidemiology and surveillance programs.”

Last year, Florida’s county health departments suffered a $30 million budget cut statewide. Children’s medical services, in particular, were cut by about $2.5 million. There was also a $5.4 million cut to to Healthy Start Coalitions in the state. Healthy Start coalitions are community-based prenatal care centers for at-risk mothers and babies. They provide education and home visiting programs for at-risk first-time mothers, among other services.

According to the report, most health departments around the country also had to deal with reduced budgets. Like Florida, this led to job losses, as well as program cuts:

In July 2011, 45 percent of LHDs throughout the nation reported reduced operating budgets compared to the previous fiscal year. About the same proportion (44%) reported lower budgets when asked in November 2010, and more than half (52%) expect cuts in the next fiscal year.

During the first half of 2011, more than four out of every 10 (44%) LHDs lost at least one employee as they collectively shed 5,400 jobs (Figure 3). When reduced hours and mandatory furlough are also considered, the percentage of LHDs experiencing some type of negative job impact increases to 53 percent, nearly equal to the percentage of LHDs reporting negative job impact during 2010. Since 2008, LHDs lost a total of 34,400 jobs to layoffs and attrition.

Workforce additions were small by comparison. Between January and June 2011, 19 percent of LHDs reported staff additions (not shown). In total, LHDs added 1,800 staff positions, 1,400 new positions and 400 previously frozen positions.

As Health News Florida has reported, the state health department’s $55.6 million budget reduction during the legislative session led to layoffs statewide. A spokesperson for the state health agency said it will be “eliminating 229 full-time job positions, of which 172 are from county health departments.”

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