Summit County Health Department bracing for federal cuts
As politicians in Washington, D.C. tackle how to reduce the national deficit, Summit County Health Department officials are already trying to trim the fat in anticipation of cuts to initiatives like the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Emergency Preparedness programs.
Local health departments across the country are preparing for an eight to ten percent cut to WIC and public health emergency response, two federally funded programs considered nonessential to the budget, unlike other services such as Medicare and Medicaid.
WIC is a government program that ensures proper nutrition for low-income mothers and their children. Alongside workshop programs on healthy living, participants receive checks or vouchers to purchase healthy foods each month designed to supplement their diets with specific nutrients. Emergency preparedness or emergency management programs create plans of action in the case of a natural or human-caused disaster such as earthquakes and terrorist attacks. "So far, funding has been holding out for this year," said Chris Furner, the Utah WIC Program Manager. "We are expecting to be able to continue at same level through 2012. But we don’t have a firm idea of what funding will look like next year if these cuts happen. There’s just so much support in reducing the deficit." Despite support in past years from Congress, both programs seem like strong candidates for cuts for the 2013 fiscal budget. In 2012, Summit County received $253,954 in funding for WIC, but is anticipating a loss of $30,000 by next year putting total funding at $233,638. The emergency preparedness program is expected to receive similar cuts, with a current budget of $372,030 and an anticipated budget in 2013 of $262,660. "While I hate to see specific programs get cut, I understand it," said Richard Bullough, the Summit County Health Department Director. "Right now, we’re finding a way to be more efficient because we do anticipate things getting tighter."
"Programs like WIC, which focus on nutritional health, typically serve poorer populations and make sure kids are getting the proper nutrition they need," he added. "It is a very important program that reaches very vulnerable populations"
Concern among nonprofits serving the Park City community is growing as well.
"Any time services get cut for clients, I get concerned," said Nann Worel, Executive Director of the People’s Health Clinic. "We serve the uninsured and low income and do see WIC participants here. Nutrition is extremely important for all our patients, but especially women, infants and children."
Bullough doesn’t expect programs to end but said Summit County residents may see reduced services if funding from the federal levels, which provides support for several nonessential programs, continues to drop. "We are seeking out more resources," Bullough said. "Of course we’re not happy about cuts, but we’re expecting it. The bottom line is we want to maintain services, and I don’t think cuts are quite that deep yet."
With programs like the Emergency Preparedness Program, the health department has managed to pick up slack by enlisting the help of other county departments. Coordinated plans of action have been developed between public schools in the area, police departments and fire departments.
"In place we have plans to assure access to generators, plows, roads, basic services," Bullough said. "We have partnership with businesses like the ski resorts which are signed up for reverse 911 calls where in the event of an emergency calls go out to individual phones."
Over the summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Utah Department of Health conducted evaluations of all 12 local health departments and their response plans and scored them all accordingly. In the end, the Summit County Health Department scored an 89 out of 100 and was the highest score in the state of Utah.
"I feel like we’re really dialed in as a county," Bullough said. "We’ve done very well (with the emergency preparedness program.) No matter if it’s a natural disaster or manmade disaster, collaborating is something this county has, collaborative people and departments."
Bullough said he was confident the program could continue to succeed despite shrinking funds.
While emergency preparedness may make it through the cuts unscathed, nationally groups are clamoring to keep WIC funds at the current levels. The National WIC Association put together a campaign through March 23 where opponents to WIC cuts can sign a petition against cutting the program. For more information visit http://www.nwica.org.
Summit County Funds for WIC:
WIC (does not include the amount for the food vouchers) Food Vouchers
Funding for Oct 2010 Sept 2011 $ 230,333 $ 346,956
Funding for Oct 2011 Sept 2012 $ 253,954
Anticipated Funding for 2012 2013 $ 233,638
WIC Participants in Summit County as of Jan. 2012:
Total infants: 148
Total children: 391
Total women: 166
Total participants: 705
Jan 2010: 719
Jan 2011: 668
Summit County Funds for Emergency Preparedness:
Preparedness, which includes PHEP (Public Health Preparedness & Response), CRI (City Readiness Initiative), and Regional Epidemiologists.
Funding for Aug 2010 Aug 2011 $ 372,030
Funding for Aug 2011 Aug 2012 $ 262,660
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