Floyd County Health Department To Hold Town Hall Meeting
Rome, GA: Concerned citizens are invited to attend a town hall meeting Thursday, May 22, from 11 AM to 1 PM at the Floyd County Health Department, 16 East 12th Street, to discuss what Northwest Georgia Public Health’s Dr. Wade Sellers calls “a critical situation in which we will be forced to curtail or discontinue essential public health services for Floyd County residents.”
The health department provides the community with a wide range of clinical, preventive, regulatory and environmental services, including immunizations, disease prevention and control, emergency preparedness and food-service inspections, which have a direct impact on the community’s health and economy.
Sellers is inviting concerned citizens to join local and state government representatives, health organizations, news media and others at the meeting “to learn what is happening and why, hear what cost-reduction measures the health department has already implemented and help develop plans for what needs to be done to address these issues that potentially affect the health and well-being of every Floyd County citizen.” Citing “funding sources that have shrunk and failed to keep pace with inflation and the county’s population growth,” Sellers says that county boards of health in Georgia have seen a 15% drop in state funding in recent years due to state budget shortfalls, a reduction in fee income due to changes in the state’s Medicaid programs and local county budget constraints that have affected county funding of health departments.
Sellers notes that “as public health responsibilities for preparation and response to man-made and natural disasters have grown, the capability of the Floyd County Health Department has lessened and is now considerably weaker than before 9/11. Since 2002, the Floyd County Health Department has had to reduce staff by close to 20%, dwindling from 53 positions to 43 at the end of 2007.
In a recent letter to stakeholders about the upcoming meeting, Sellers explained that “the events of 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks were a wakeup call to our nation regarding, among other issues, the importance of our public health agencies in protecting our health. Soon after 9/11, Floyd County voters recognized this importance, as well as the importance of traditional public health services, by choosing to tax themselves to build a modern public health facility. However this new facility is now seriously understaffed due to increased costs and loss of revenue since 2002.”
Sellers explains that Floyd County is not alone in facing what an Atlanta Journal-Constitution news article last year termed a “state of crisis” for Georgia public health. “Other northwest Georgia health departments are facing similar situations as are health departments across the state,” Sellers says. He refers to a 2007 legislative study committee report that concluded “Georgia’s public health system is in a state of crisis, burdened by inadequate funding and a shrinking pool of nurses amid rising demands for services.. If a pandemic or other major emergency occurs, the medical system in Georgia will collapse unless improvements are made to public health.”
Floyd County Health Department Nurse Manager Pat Townley explains that “our public health nurses are being asked to handle more responsibilities as the world around us changes, yet the budget to hire and train these nurses is insufficient. In the event of a disaster, the 12 of us (Floyd County Health Department nurses) are expected to handle 24-hour telephone triage, receipt of the Strategic National Stockpile (of medicine and material) and, at various points of distribution throughout the county, education, assessment and distribution of medications to almost 100,000 persons in three days. It is obvious that the real disaster will then be to our community.”
Northwest Georgia Public Health Environmental Health Director, Tim Allee, notes that “a reduction in quality and timeliness of environmental health services due to lack of staff will have an economic impact on our community, especially in the areas of restaurant inspections, pool inspections, tourism, onsite building inspections and construction permits.”
Sellers hopes that the town hall meeting “will help people, particularly county and state officials, understand the causes, nature, extent and potential consequences of the problems facing the Floyd County Health Department, generate some constructive discussion of the issues and help us develop some realistic solutions.”