Health Officers Fight for Increased Support, Flexibility

MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson today testified before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to support SB 563 Local Health Departments – Funding. This bill is a MACo initiative, which strengthens support for local health departments that play a crucial role in combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman and Prince George’s County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter both presented their experience leading public health work in recent years, including the current pandemic. Both urged passage of the important bill, one of MACo’s top legislative initiatives for the 2021 session.

A breakdown of the bill’s main facets from the MACo Testimony:

First, SB 563 advances the core funds for local health departments modestly in each of the next two years. Local health departments receive targeted grant funds for many specific programs, but it is this core funding that “keeps the lights on” and supports central staff, equipment, technology, and the like. The funding levels proposed in the bill are far from a full restoration of reductions made in years before the pandemic, but still represent an admirable and appropriate step forward given the heightened understanding of public health.

Second, SB 563 adds to the areas where these core funds may be used. The new additions all relate to the realities of the pandemic – personal protective equipment, materials needed to combat communicable diseases, and information sharing. None of these functions are outside the general scope of a local health department, the language just eliminates any ambiguity about the intended use of State funds.

Finally, the bill requests a study by the end of 2021 of the information systems that support these needed functions, at both the State and local level. Data sharing and management is an important part of modern public health – and Health Officers are concerned that their support systems are lacking. The study should offer guidance on next steps for the Maryland Department of Health, to bring this important backdrop technology up to modern standards.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2021 legislative session on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.

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