A recent survey of local health departments revealed the elimination of almost 52,000 jobs of local health professionals nationwide. In a post for The Hill, LaMar Hasbrouck, Executive Director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), stresses the dangers Americans face by the cuts to local health departments:
Unsung champions of population health, local health departments do many things on a daily basis that too often go unnoticed. They focus on preparing for, preventing and responding to illnesses and injuries caused by a variety of factors, including: infectious disease outbreaks; unhealthy behaviors like smoking and substance abuse; natural disasters; mass casualty attacks by terrorists and other criminals; and catastrophic accidents like airliner crashes and train derailments.
Among other duties, local health departments collaborate with community and private-sector partners to ensure the safety of the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe. They educate the public about smoking and obesity. They vaccinate people against diseases like hepatitis A and B, flu, measles and whooping cough. They provide substance abuse treatment and conduct screening for conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV.
Local health department touch the lives of more than 200 million Americans every day. Most of the 2,800 local health departments in the United States have been weakened by funding and staffing cuts – particularly the largest health departments, which each serve more than 500,000 people and collectively serve nearly half the U.S. population.
The funding cuts have come about because of millions of dollars in reductions in federal, state and local government assistance for local health departments since 2008 – even though the U.S. population and the cost of providing healthcare grew every year.