Layoffs Put Strain on Health Agencies for Flu Season

The following was released from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) on September 21, 2009. More information can be found here.

Local health departments—the public agencies that work on-the-ground to safeguard their communities against the H1N1 flu virus and other threats to public health—sustained accelerated job losses during the first half of 2009, a new survey shows. Because of budget-related cuts, city, county, and other local health departments eliminated 8,000 staff positions between January and June, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

This loss compounds the disappearance of 7,000 positions in 2008, determined by a previous NACCHO survey, the results of which were announced in January.  Departments lost more jobs in the first six months of 2009 than in all of 2008.

The losses hit the field just as local health departments have been gearing up for what may be their most intense flu season in recent history.  Beginning in October, departments will support, coordinate, and conduct community-wide immunization campaigns against the highly contagious H1N1 virus, while also immunizing residents against seasonal flu.  They also have a host of related responsibilities, including monitoring the course of the epidemic, working with schools, businesses, and other local agencies to mitigate the spread of influenza, collaborating with local healthcare providers to manage a potential surge in demand for medical care, and keeping the public well informed.

“Local health departments will do the best job they can with the resources available to them to protect Americans from the H1N1 flu and continue their daily activities to address other public health threats,” said NACCHO Executive Director Robert M. Pestronk.  “They have used currently available federal funds for pandemic influenza preparedness well and are working extraordinarily hard to adapt and respond to the evolving epidemic.  However, these data demonstrate that the economic strains on local and state government budgets are reducing public health resources at a time when a stable public health system is greatly needed.”

The survey found that layoffs accounted for about three in eight positions lost in early 2009, while attrition accounted for the remainder.  Besides the 8,000-person drop in positions, departments cut the hours of another 3,000 employees and placed 9,000 on mandatory furloughs.  In all, about 20,000 local public health positions have been affected by cutbacks this year.  Slightly more than half of the departments surveyed sustained staff losses.

Furthermore, half of the local departments surveyed anticipate budget reductions in fiscal year 2010.  Between July 2008 and June 2009, 55 percent of the departments were forced to cut programs in such areas such as maternal and child health, emergency preparedness, and environmental health.

NACCHO is the national organization representing the nation’s 2,800 local health departments. These agencies work every day on the front lines to protect and promote the health of their communities. NACCHO develops resources and programs and promotes national policies that support effective local public health practice.