Tuesday, January 25, Commissioner Terry Cline of the Health Department presented the agency’s budget to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. Commissioner indicated any further cuts to state and county operated local health departments would jeopardize the agency’s ability to protect public health.
Cline emphasized the core public health mission of the agency and voiced concern that additional cuts could decimate basic services in Oklahoma communities. As an example, he told of the meningitis outbreak in Oolagah and the importance of the agency’s quick response. The Health Department, working with the highway patrol, was able to have vaccine in the community quickly. He cautioned the committee that further cuts could be an irreparable blow to the state’s public health infrastructure.
“We have taken everything down to the bone,” said Cline. “Anything more and I fear we will weaken our ability to provide core services. We are concerned about our ability to provide basic core services to the people of this state.”
According to Cline, the Health Department has 2,000 employees in 68 locations across the state. During 2010, the agency performed 650,000 lab tests, distributed nutrition vouchers to 105,000 pregnant women and children per month through the WIC program and issued 405,000 birth and death certificates.
“That’s a pretty good deal for the dollar for the people of Oklahoma,” said Cline. “Every single person in this state receives core services from the Health Department.”
State leaders slashed the Health Department budget by 7.5 percent in FY 2010 and another 7.5 percent for the current year. The FY 2011 cut was higher than any other health agency.
When asked for proposed cuts for FY 2012, Cline recommended the agency eliminate 21 child abuse prevention contracts at $3.1 million. Legislators responded by telling Cline to “scrub his numbers” and identify other cuts, rather than eliminating a program. Cline told the committee the last two years of cuts have caused the agency to take a hard look at operations.
“We have reduced administrative costs from 9.3 to five percent,” he said. “We have consolidated the guidance program from 16 to 21 sites. If we continue this strategy, we will dismantle critical public health infrastructure.”
“Commissioner Cline and the Board of Health have done everything possible to gain efficiency and reduce costs,” said OPEA Policy and Research Director Trish Frazier. “They have made the right decision to eliminate contracts before slashing core public health services any further. OPEA members and state employees in local heath departments should let tell their legislators what they do for the people of Oklahoma and further cuts would result in the serious threat to core services.”
For more information about fighting cuts in the Health Department, contact Trish Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 405-524-6764 (800-880-6732 toll free).