Local health officials, stretched thin amid the ongoing pandemic, are calling for a $216.5 million boost in funding to help shore up core functions across New York.
The New York State Association of County Health Officials on Sunday evening began the push as state officials, from Gov. Kathy Hochul to members of the state Legislature, prepare a new state budget expected to pass in the next three months.
The money would be spent on the response to the pandemic, but also chronic disease prevention, emergency preparedness, environmental health and drinking water supply such as child lead poisoning prevention, as well as maternal and childhood health and community health assessment.
All together, the spending proposal is known as the PREPARE Act.
Pandemic-related issues have expanded the role of public health officials on the county level in the last two years, and spending over the last decade has not kept pace: The county health official association points to $150 million in spending cuts to the 58 local health departments over the last decade.
"Despite these constraints, for the past two years local health departments have been leading their communities during the worst pandemic of the century, and will continue to do so during the current exponential surge in new cases due to Omicron variants and beyond," said Dr. Indu Gupta, the president of the New York State Association of County Health Officials and the Onondaga County commissioner of health. "The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerability and weaknesses within the current public health system, but it has also provided state lawmakers a once in a lifetime opportunity to change course and strengthen our public health infrastructure to better prepare New York for future public health emergencies."
Adding to the challenge facing local health officials has been a decline in staff working on core services. Data from the state Department of Health show local health department staff working on core services dropped by 7% between 2015 and 2020.
Local health officials estimated in a recent survey that 1,000 additional full-time staff are needed statewide to provide basic services and public health infrastructure.