We must support public health agencies

The Associated Press and Kaiser Health News recently partnered for a devastating report showing public health agencies nationwide were financially gutted for decades before the coronavirus pandemic hit, leaving them ill-prepared for responding to the greatest health emergency this nation has faced in a century.

According to the AP and Kaiser, per-capita spending for state health departments has fallen 16% since 2010, and per-capita spending local health departments has fallen 18% since then. That has forced the elimination of at least 38,000 state and local public health jobs, the report says.

That is the environment in which we asked our public health agencies to test thousands of Americans for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to trace the contacts of those confirmed infected, to educate the public of the necessary precautions to prevent the virus’ spread, and to enforce the government mandates that are meant to keep us safe.

As News staff writer Crystal Nelson reported recently, there are consequences for our underinvestment.

While resources were redirected to dealing with the pandemic, local health departments had to postpone some of the other vital services they perform, including immunizations, restaurant inspections, and other environmental health services. Public health departments are now playing catch-up.

We must never be caught flat-footed again.

We hope the hard lessons learned during this pandemic are taken seriously by our leaders now and in the future, and that we invest where we must invest, including in public health agencies.

They keep us healthy, and they are worth the money.



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