Due to a lack of funding forcing employee layoffs, environmental and food safety services will be reduced in four counties served by the Cumberland Valley District Health Department, including Harlan County.
Interim Director Lynett Renner said health departments in Harlan, Rockcastle, Clay and Jackson counties will see a total of 14 employees being laid off later this month due to the lack of funding.
“We are doing furlough hours and will be sending a notice to the newspapers listing those hours,” said Renner. “It’s a result of decreased funding, and with the advent of the managed care organizations. Up until this point, we have almost $1 million in outstanding accounts where the payments from those organizations have come in very slowly. Also, one of the things that affected the health departments tremendously is we’re the only provider in the state required to pay a Medicaid match, which means for every service we provide for a client who has Medicaid, we have to pay the state back 20 percent and that recently increased to 28 percent.”
Renner said health departments across the state are “seeing hard times.”
“It’s been almost a 30 percent decrease in our funding just over the past two years,” said Renner. “We’re really hoping this will improve. Some of our funding issues are wrapped up in this fiscal cliff everyone has been talking about. A lot of the health prevention monies are in consideration with the fiscal cliff. So, certainly some of the issues with the federal budget is affecting local health departments.”
Renner said she feels this is a “tragedy” for families affected by the layoffs and the Harlan County community.
“The citizens of Harlan County should contact their legislators,” said Renner. “The services we provide to Harlan County, truly I feel touches the lives of every person in our community.”
Renner listed examples such as the environmental services at health departments across the state providing restaurant checks, education and food handlers licenses to help ensure consumers don’t get food poisoning or other issues.
She cited environmental and health improvements resulting from requiring everyone to have septic systems.
Renner continued by saying most times public health is taken for granted. She said often community’s residents don’t realize all the things the health department does to keep residents healthy and safe.
“So much is done behind the scenes to ensure the health and safety of every citizen,” said Renner. “My fear is, and this is across the nation, they’re reducing the ability of the public health infrastructure to be able to maintain that level of service that provides protection.”
She said, “These layoffs have been the hardest thing I have had to do, because every one of our staff members play a vital role. And, they don’t deserve this. As any funding improves, and we’re scrambling for grants trying to strengthen our position so that we can sustain our staff, we hope the layoffs will be short term and we can call these people back to work.”
“It’s just a tragic thing,” she said. “Everyone needs to begin contacting their legislators today.”
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