Proposed across-the-board state employee pay cuts would have detrimental impacts on local health departments who are already understaffed, underfunded, and in the midst of providing vital services during a pandemic.
As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Board of Public Works (BPW) — a three-member panel which includes Governor Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp — tomorrow will consider $672 million in state budget cuts as part of the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) effort to offset COVID-19-related economic woes.
The Maryland Association of County Health Officers (MACHO), an affiliate organization of MACo, has submitted a letter to BPW expressing concerns over DBM’s proposed cuts, in particular, the across the board state employee pay cuts which would impact local health departments’ staff.
The letter highlights what local health department staff has been doing above and beyond their contractual obligations to provide assistance, such as contact tracing, during the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to continuing to provide other essential public health services. The proposed cuts would further strain their already limited staff and resources. The letter reads in part:
These activities are carried out by nurses, environmental health specialists, emergency response planners, health educators, public information specialists, addiction and behavioral health counselors, therapists, social workers, administrative staff, physicians, dentists, administrators and other trained professionals who are supported by the critical information technology and budgetary program staff that ensure secure communication tools, seamless reporting and financial administration to support all LHD response activities. This is in addition to activities and staff that support essential services that have continued to be offered to the public throughout this response. LHD staff have reported to work and acted in innumerable selfless ways to protect individuals and their communities from further spread of COVID-19.
It is widely acknowledged that local health department staff are significantly undercompensated relative to private sector professionals performing comparable work. Cutting their pay will not only force some to resign their positions out of financial need, but it is an (unintentional) slap in the face to dedicated public health professionals who have performed above and beyond anyone’s expectations, and will almost certainly be asked to continue these efforts when a second wave of COVID hits this the fall and the virus sustains into the winter. If salaries are cut, resignations and staff shortages are very likely as we prepare for increased COVID cases coinciding with the upcoming influenza season. Recruiting efforts for replacements will take months and likely fail to find people willing to work for even lower salaries.
Health Officers are not blind to financial realities brought on by COVID-19…But Health Officers have a duty to advise the Board of Public Works that the salary reductions proposed by DBM will be injurious to Marylanders through the remainder of the pandemic, further harm state employees that are already underpaid, and the resulting staff shortages will have adverse impacts to both residents and businesses for years to come. [emphasis added]
For more information:
MACHO Letter to BPW Concerning Proposed Budget Cuts (June 30, 2020)