More than half of city and county health departments have cut services in the last year, according to a new survey released this morning by the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO).
From July 2010 to June 2011, 55 percent of local health departments reduced or eliminated at least one program, including 11 percent that completely eliminated at least one program.
The news isn't a surprise. Counties
are both suffering from decreased revenue that still hasn't rebounded to its pre-recession level. And with the housing market still lagging, those numbers may not bounce back for at least a few years. (More than half of those surveyed anticipate lower budgets in the new fiscal year.)
The NACCHO study provides a look at how the lingering effects of recession affects one of the key aspects of local government. Typically health care is viewed as a state issue, given the vast expense of Medicaid to state governments.
But in about half the states, counties are legally tasked with serving as the health care provider of last resort
for the indigent. In those places, the cuts could have major effects. While short-term service reductions may save money for now, they could increase longer-term costs if residents losing access to preventative care need more costly treatment down the road.
Programs aiding moms and kids took the biggest hit, according to the study. More than one in five local health departments made cuts to those programs. Other areas that faced large cuts include emergency preparedness, immunizations, chronic disease screenings and personal health services such as home health care and mental health service.
Similarly, in the first half of 2011, local health departments lost 5,400 jobs. Since 2008, local health departments have lost more than 20 percent of their workforce – 34,400 jobs – due to layoffs and attrition, according to the study
The data is based on 680 local health departments that responded to NACCHO's survey in July and August.