July 27, 2012 — Starting July 1, many health departments across Kentucky began cutting programs and reducing employee hours after a drop in state and local funding. However, the Gateway District Health Department (GDHD) serving Rowan, Menifee, Bath and Morgan counties learned that would not be the case for its budget.
“Rural areas really took a hit last year,” said Bobby Ratliff, public health director for GDHD. “Rural health departments have struggled for years with lack of funding.”
A reformulation by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees public health, now considers the percentage of population living below the poverty level and how well these districts are served by other health resources.
“Urban areas that have more access to health care will be seeing less money,” said Ratliff.
“I have been working to increase funding for 15 years,” said Ratliff. “We had to lay off five people last year and have had to leave four vacanies unfilled due to lack of funds.”
“Gateway as a group will get a little more now with the state’s formula change,” he added. “We are looking at an extra $135,000 to $150,000 this year and possibly an extra $300,000 the next year to be used across the four counties.”
Ratliff said that public health funding has always cycled up and down depending on each crisis that arises.
“Money put back into the public health system fluctuates as public health disasters like swine flu, anthrax and others which cause national and /or international concern,” he added.
County and district health departments provide mandated services that are essential to a healthy society.
Operating budgets include monitoring infectious diseases, performing cervical and breast cancer screenings, screening and tracking sexually transmitted diseases, environmental health which includes inspecting restaurants, pools, hospitals and hotels, family planning, the Women Infant and Children (WIC) services, tuberculosis programs, disaster preparedness and even investigating dog and other animal bites.
“Planning non-mandated support programs such as diabetes services, school health units and home health becomes difficult when budget cuts are required,” said Ratliff.
“We are now able to extend our HANDS (Health Access Nurturing Development Service) program. It began as a support program for first-time parents only. We have now opened it to families with more than one child who are expecting,” he said.
The program provides support services such as caring for their baby, pre-natal education, parenting skills and how to access other community services, sometimes in the home, from the pre-natal period or under three months to the child’s third birthday.
Ratliff said he hoped the influx of new funds would allow Gateway to fill its vacancies and expand some additional support services this year.
Kim Bandura can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 784-4116.