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State health job losses hurt public health

Dec. 19, 2011 at 10:35 PM   |   Comments

ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The loss of 16,830 state health department jobs since 2008 may undermine investments intended to improve health, a U.S. non-profit says.

Officials at the Association of State and Territorial Health -- which represents the public health agencies -- say an analysis of budgets indicates 55 health agencies report they experienced job losses, 51 have let jobs go unfilled after staff left and 32 have laid off employees since 2008.

Health agencies have imposed 230,754 furlough days in the last two years -- equivalent to more than 1,000 full-time jobs -- the report said.

"State health agencies have always been effective at taking limited resources and using them to generate improved health outcomes for the populations they serve. However, with public funds shrinking at both federal and state levels, their leaders are forced into gut-wrenching decisions about which programs to shrink and which ones to eliminate," Dr. Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said in a statement. "The investments we've made in public health in the last decade have made us a healthier society and saved us money in the long run. We must make public health funding a priority, or we risk undermining the tremendous progress we have made."

Fifty-one of the health agencies reported the budget cuts resulted in reduced services and 33 cut entire programs -- such as mobile clinics providing primary care services to rural areas, testing capacity in environmental labs for drinking water and supporting school health programs and nursing services -- Jarris said.

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