On Tuesday, March 15, the state budget was released. After reading the information provided in the "Blue Book" regarding programs provided through the Washington County Health Department, we will begin looking at what this means for the delivery of services to the people of Washington County.
One thing is certain. WCHD will need to review all its programs and determine what is important to the residents in Washington County. We will need to work with our partners in addressing these needs both in health care and prevention and in the environmental sector. We also need to ask and answer the hard questions. What mandated programs are the responsibilities of the health department and how can we carry out these programs so that they best serve the county without additional cost? And what services make sense and need to be preserved no matter the cost? Where is there duplication of services and to what extent can they be combined to better serve the community? At what cost?
We know that the county and townships are not the only local government agencies that will receive some funding cuts. WCHD will receive slightly less in the local health department support line item. Although only a 0.4 percent cut over all, this line item is also population based. Thus a decrease in the census, results in a slight decrease in funding. It is hoped that some of this will be recovered through our vital statistics fees and that less will be required to be sent to the state and more will remain in the local health department. Thus some additional funding will be generated locally with no increase to the fees for the issuance of birth and death records.
In order to prevent disease and protect the residents of Washington County, several programs are preserved in the proposed budget, but with minor changes. Two of these are noted here.
Childhood immunization programs will remain the same in Washington County and WCHD will continue to support immunization clinics for both children and adults. The cost of administering childhood immunizations is anticipated to remain the same. While the cost of the vaccine itself depends on the manufacturer, WCHD will provide those vaccines for international travel and adults at our cost plus the administration fee. Our clinic hours remain 1 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays. No appointment is necessary.
The Washington County Health Department investigates animal bites and on occasion ships specimens to the state laboratory for rabies testing. Currently, the Ohio Department of Health has arranged for shipping of these specimens to the lab. That cost will now become the responsibility of the health department. Although now a large expense, this cost will be borne through local funding. The health department has always reviewed each animal contact to determine the animal exposure and the necessity for testing. There is currently no plan to pass this cost along to either the owner of an animal involved in a bite or the individual who was in contact with a suspect animal. The WCHD will also continue to provide low cost rabies clinics for pet owners throughout the county. Currently a schedule is being planned whereby we can hold three of these clinics this year at various locations throughout the area.
There are certainly other programs that may be affected through budget cuts. As to what level these cuts will be reflected in local services are uncertain at this point. If we as a count are to continue to serve the population of Washington County we will need to examine all services provided through three health departments within the county and working together and collaboratively move toward a better mechanism of continued service with less funding available. If now is the time for consolidation into a single health department serving all of Washington County, perhaps we as a community of the whole need to move in that direction. The Washington County Health Department administration is willing to begin these discussions with all its public health partners to work toward a solution of best promoting public health, preventing disease, and protecting the health of the residents of Washington County.
Kathleen Meckstroth is executive director of the Washington County Health Department, 342 Muskingum Drive, Marietta.