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A decline in funding, partnered with increasing retirement expenses is leading to reductions in personnel and services at the Oldham County Health Department.
Starting July 6, the department will be releasing two contract employees and reducing three full-time employees to part-time, Teresa Gamsky, the director of public health, said.
The changes will affect the availability of the Kentucky Women’s Cancer Screening Program, family planning and STD treatment programs, she said. It won’t mean the end of such programs, Gamsky said, but instead will result in those programs be available only on a limited basis.
Still, the reductions are significant, she said, because public health departments, including hers, are often specially trained for the programs they offer.
“Public health nurses are trained in specific diseases,” Gamsky said. “Those types of services are unique to public health and it’s difficult for a private physician to meet the protocols for that.”
The causes for the cutbacks are due to changes at both the federal and state levels. Gamsky said with the continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act, federal funding for local health departments is being diverted to help pay for the expansion of Medicaid eligibility.
The thought on the federal level is that with more people on Medicaid or with their own health insurance, they will be able to get services usually rendered by the public health departments with a private doctor, Dori Livy, the nurse program manager at the Oldham County Health Department, said.
But Gamsky said that could be a false hope.
“The expertise here isn’t duplicated anywhere else in this community,” she said.
The other factors are due to repeated cuts in state funding and increased expenses for paying into the state’s pension system. Gamsky said statewide, it’s estimated that more than 450 public health department employees have been sent to the unemployment line over the last several years.
“When you deplete that workforce, you deplete your ability to respond to a disease outbreak or to a local disaster,” she said.
Locally, the cuts are the first time any such action has occurred in more than a decade, Gamsky said, but there have been no cost of living increases for several years. And while the state is currently helping pay for some of the increased pension costs, that additional funding won’t continue forever, causing future budgets to look bleak too, Gamsky said.
In addition to their public clinic, the department is also responsible for a litany of other things, notably disease outbreak treatment and prevention, disaster response, food testing and more.
The department does receive some revenue from local taxes and has the ability to raise their tax to help cover any expenses, but Gamsky said the department’s board is weary of that approach right now, although it’s a possibility.
And for those hopeful that federal or state funding will return, Livy said that’s unlikely.
“It seems once funding is cut, it rarely comes back,” she said.
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