Local Health Agencies Struggle With Costs of Responding to Flu
At a legislative hearing yesterday, local health professionals told California lawmakers that they do not have sufficient staff, funding or equipment to respond to an extended H1N1 flu outbreak, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports.
To date, California officials have confirmed 16 cases of H1N1 flu, formerly called swine flu, and are investigating 41 probable cases statewide.
On Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) declared a state of emergency, which requires agencies to coordinate with public health officials, suspends competitive bidding requirements for contracts and waives staff certification requirements for laboratories processing swine flu tests.Â
County officials say the order does not provide funds for overtime or to preserve jobs that have been eliminated (Young, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 4/30).
Bonnie Sorenson, chief deputy director for policy at the California Public Health Department, said, "We don't have the cash or the authority to ensure that the appropriate level of employees ... are retained at the local level" (Hines, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 4/30).
Effects of County Budget Cuts
TheÂ H1N1 outbreak comes as many counties have reduced staffing at health departments and other agencies to deal with drops in tax revenue and widening budget deficits (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 4/30).
For example, Riverside County will hold a hearing Monday to discuss proposed cuts to public health services as part of an effort to close the county's budget gap.Â
Riverside County Public Health Officer Eric Frykman told county supervisors that some services have been scaled back to respond to the flu outbreak.
In neighboring San Bernardino County, Public Health Director Jim Lindley said the department has preserved public health services despite reducing its budget.Â He said the county's "response to this swine flu outbreak has been impacted only in more general clerical functions of managing an emergency, such as staffing phones to answer questions and secretarial services" (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 4/30).
In addition, Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president of the California Primary Care Association, estimates that community clinics statewide have seen a 25% jump in patients this week.
Clinics are reporting problems getting protective supplies for workers and antiviral medications.
Assembly Health Committee Chair Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) asked local public health officials to assess their needs so the Legislature could act if necessary.
Sorenson said counties are responsible for distributing supplies they receive from the state but echoed lawmakers' calls for counties to provide supplies to community clinics, as well as hospitals (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 4/30).
Broadcast CoverageOn Thursday, Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" featured segments examining confusion over state response plans to H1N1 flu and community clinics' response to the illness (Weiss, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 4/30). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.