In­jec­tion of funds

Health de­part­ment to re­ceive por­tion of state’s $5.7 mil­lion

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Rachel Oswald

The New­ton County Pub­lic Health De­part­ment, which has seen its state fund­ing dras­ti­cally de­creased in re­cent years, is ex­pected to get a much-needed in­jec­tion of funds later this sum­mer as a re­sult of a $5.7 mil­lion al­lo­ca­tion to the state Di­vi­sion of Pub­lic Health which was in­cluded in the 2008 fis­cal year state bud­get.

Ver­non Goins, pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the East Metro Health Dis­trict — which con­sists of New­ton, Rock­dale and Gwin­nett coun­ties — said he does not yet know specif­i­cally how much money from the $5.7 mil­lion will be al­lo­cated to the New­ton County Pub­lic Health De­part­ment.

“We don’t know yet how much is com­ing to East Metro,” Goins said. “It’s usu­ally dis­trib­uted af­ter the first of July so we ex­pect it very soon.”

How­ever Goins is op­ti­mistic that the fund­ing will al­low the county to re­vive some pro­grams which had ei­ther been cut al­to­gether — such as the de­part­ment’s Men’s Health and Di­a­betes Pro­grams — or were in dan­ger of also be­ing ter­mi­nated such as the de­part­ment’s pop­u­lar Stroke and Heart At­tack Pre­ven­tion Pro­gram.

Over the past 10 years the county’s pub­lic health de­part­ment has seen its fund­ing cut as part of a larger statewide trend to­wards fund­ing private health care in­stead for the care of in­di­gents.

“The big­gest hit this year was be­cause of the Med­i­caid man­aged care,” said Goins. “The state took that away from pub­lic health and made it private. That’s about a $300,000 hit.”

Ad­di­tion­ally an out­dated 35-year-old for­mula for the al­lo­ca­tion of state funds to coun­ties has re­sulted in New­ton County re­ceiv­ing only $3.69 per per­son in gen­eral Grant-in-Aid al­lo­ca­tions for FY 2007 ac­cord­ing to a 2007 re­port on the county’s health de­part­ment. The state av­er­age in GIA pub­lic health fund­ing per per­son last year was $6.89.

The out­dated for­mula used by the leg­is­la­ture did not take into ac­count re­cent in­creases in pop­u­la­tions which re­sulted in Tali­a­ferro County, with a 2005 pop­u­la­tion of 1,826, re­ceiv­ing an al­lo­ca­tion in FY 2007 of $ 41.32 per county res­i­dent, com­pared to the much more pop­u­lous Gwin­nett County which only re­ceived $ 2.35 per res­i­dent for the care of its 726,273 in­hab­i­tants.

Of the state’s 159 coun­ties, New­ton is ranked 152 in terms of GIA fund­ing, slightly above Gwin­nett County — ranked 158 — and slightly be­low Rock­dale County which was ranked 146 and saw a GIA al­lo­ca­tion of $ 4.22 per county res­i­dent.

“ The East Metro Health Dis­trict to­gether has the ab­so­lute low­est per capita al­lo­ca­tion from the state,” Goins said. “ By a ter­ri­ble co­in­ci­dence we are also the most pop­u­lated.”

With New­ton County’s con­tin­ued high rate of pop­u­la­tion growth, had the ex­ist­ing for­mula con­tin­ued Goins says the con­se­quences for the county’s health de­part­ment would have been dis­as­trous and in the event of a bioter­ror­ism at­tack or a large- scale out­break of an in­fec­tious dis­ease the con­se­quences for the county would likely have been fa­tal.

How­ever, the Ge­or­gia leg­is­la­ture is act­ing to change the for­mula for al­lo­ca­tions to take into ac­count state pop­u­la­tions and is also ask­ing for an ad­di­tional $ 5.7 mil­lion in next year’s bud­get to bring such un­der- funded coun­ties as New­ton and Rock­dale up to the state’s av­er­age. By 2009 Goins said the leg­is­la­ture hopes to have equal fund­ing lev­els for all Geor- gia coun­ties.

“ We’re still in cri­sis but at least now the cri­sis will be han­dled by the state,” said Goins. “ It’ll take us some time to ad­just, but hope­fully we can start bring­ing back some of those much needed ser­vices.”

Goins said the work done by Rep. Donna Shel­don ( R- Dac­ula) was in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing the is­sue to the at­ten­tion of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

“ She beat the drums be­cause you have to show peo­ple,” said Goins. “ She has been a tire­less cham­pion for this case and now we’re go­ing to see ben­e­fits.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Goins said New­ton County’s own rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the leg­is­la­ture worked hard to get the $ 5.7 mil­lion al­lo­ca­tion in­cluded in the FY 2008 bud­get.

“ This to me is some­thing that’s a no- brainer,” said Rep. Doug Holt ( R- Cov­ing­ton). “ We need to get our fair share es­pe­cially when we’re look­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity of a pan­demic over the next five to 10 years.”

A house study com­mit­tee has been formed to study the state’s health sys­tem with the pur­pose of mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to the leg­is­la­ture next year on how the sys­tem can be strength­ened.

The New­ton County Pub­lic Health De­part­ment em­ploys ap­prox­i­mately 40 li­censed prac­ti­cal nurses, reg­is­tered nurses, nurse prac­ti­tion­ers, epi­demi­ol­o­gists, nutri­tion­ists, health plan­ners, health ed­u­ca­tors, den­tists, physi­cians and sup­port staff who pro­vide such ser­vices as lab tests, im­mu­niza­tions, STD and HIV/ AIDS pre­ven­tion, test­ing and treat­ment pro­grams, school screen­ings and Women, In­fants and Chil­dren ser­vices.

Mike Hutmacher/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Im­mu­niza­tion: A nurse draws a dose of mumps/measles/rubella vac­cine. As a re­sult of state fund­ing, the New­ton County Pub­lic Health De­part­ment can breathe a sigh of re­lief that such vi­tal ser­vices as im­mu­niza­tions will con­tinue un­abated.

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