Georgia: Concerns Mount that Budget Cuts Could Worsen Public Health Crisis
December 3, 2008
Public health experts say recent budget cuts further jeopardize Georgia's already tenuous safety net, according to a 2007 state legislative committee report. A $1.6 billion shortfall will trigger state budget cuts of at least 6 percent, which will lead to shrinking preventive services and longer lines at clinics, advocates say.
The 2007 report noted the growing demand for services even as the pool of public health nurses shrinks. With longer wait times, "there will be an increase in infectious diseases such as TB, meningitis, hepatitis, and HIV," predicted Dr. Doug Skelton, president of the Georgia Public Health Association (GPHA).
Since 2002, the number of public health nurses has declined 16 percent, from 1,816 in fiscal year 2002 to 1,526 at present. Nursing vacancies stand at 20 percent, and a furlough of one day's leave without pay each month is seen by nurses as a 5 percent pay cut. The starting salary for public health nurses is $36,700, compared with $61,000 in the private sector.
The state also reduced by $7.5 million funding for family planning services, which includes abstinence education and birth control.
"We'll end up with thousands of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies," said Russ Toal, president-elect of GPHA. The planned move of public health from the Department of Human Resources to a new Department of Public Health "can't happen soon enough," Toal said. "It doesn't appear that public health has been a priority within DHR. We're not able to do a lot of preventive services that public health has always done."
"There are cuts and shortages everywhere; we're no different than other states," said Dr. Sandra Ford, acting state director of public health. "We've managed to find savings and continue to provide services." In the switch to a new Department of Public Health, "we'll be able to leverage our resources better and share the wealth better."
11.23.2008; Andy Miller
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.