“Faces of Austerity” Report Illustrates Impact of Budget Cuts on Local Emergency Preparedness

Today, the Coalition for Health Funding released the report, “Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Hurt America’s Health.” The report, sponsored in part by NACCHO, illustrates the impact of budget cuts across the public health continuum, highlighting how existing funding levels cannot meet the mounting health demands across the nation. Featuring more than 20 testimonials from people affected by deep public health budget cuts, the report details the human impact of these austerity measures.

AusterityNACCHO member Paulette Valentine, Director of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Division at the Southwest Utah Public Health Department in St. George, Utah, is among those featured in the report. The budget impacts on preparedness activities in Southwest Utah came to light after Paulette spoke about the impact of budget cuts on her local health department with NACCHO. With national attention on the budget constraints within her rural community, Paulette was invited to share her story to a wider audience through the “Faces of Austerity” report.

An excerpt from her story featured in the report follows:

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department receives little local or state support for its emergency preparedness activities. In 2010, during the H1N1 flu pandemic, the agency had seven staff working on emergency preparedness and received $674,000 from the federal government. Today, they have only three full time employees and a budget of less than $430,000 dedicated to preparedness.

In 2007, the health department’s 123 employees and community partners participated in a community-wide exercise to test the ability to vaccinate the public quickly against disease. Today, the total agency workforce has declined by 57 percent to 52 people. In many ways, the policymakers have become complacent about preparing for public health risks… [and proposed] cuts to the Hospital Preparedness Program may require reducing the health department’s hospital preparedness coordinator to part-time. If that happens, “Years of planning will be lost.”

In conjunction with the release of the “Faces of Austerity” report today, Paulette will join four other local public health professionals to speak before Congress. Sharing stories with Congress is important for illustrating how the communities that elected officials represent are directly impacted by decreases in preparedness and public health funding. Paulette has shared her enthusiasm to speak before Congress with NACCHO, recognizing that the funding constraints in her rural community needed to be raised to the national level. “Working as the Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response in a local health department, I am so grateful for the support of NACCHO in hearing my concerns as budget cuts have come,” Paulette said. “I am appreciative of NACCHO encouraging me to share my story about our local health department’s challenges, and bringing national attention to the damaging impacts of public health budget cuts. The help received by NACCHO to sustain efforts for funding as we work to maintain our emergency plans at the local level cannot be measured.”

Unfortunately, the budget cuts in Southwest Utah are not uncommon across the country. As reported in NACCHO’s 2013 National Profile of Local Health Departments, local health departments are seeing the cuts take effect as funding for emergency preparedness has dropped significantly, from $2.07 per capita in 2010 to $1.15 per capita in 2013. To help ensure local health departments do not see further reductions, public health officials need effective communications methods to build support for local public health efforts and increase impact and influence with policymakers. As seen in Paulette’s case, one of the most powerful ways to communicate your message is through storytelling.

Telling your story is an important first step in bringing more attention to the harmful impacts of federal budget cuts at the local level. Share your story at NACCHO’s Stories from the Field website, and review the “Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Hurt America’s Health” report to learn more about the broader impacts of public health budget cuts.

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